The Big Debate: Does BlackBerry have a future?

The once must-have business device has suffered dwindling market share and profits. A panel of experts look at whether the iconic Canadian brand can turn its fortunes around

When Canadian engineering students Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin set up electronics company Research In Motion in Canada in 1984 they set about developing a handheld device which would allow users to securely send and receive emails while outside the office.

The result - the BlackBerry - soon became a must-have device for every business executive, government official, US president and Hollywood starlet and revolutionised how people do business and interact with each other.

Fast forward to the new millennium and the onset of competition from the likes of Apple's iPhone and rival devices running on Google's Android software and its popularity, market share and profitability has strunk dramatically

It’s once idolised BBM messaging system has also faced challenges from WhatsApp and other imitators and the once unique selling point has now been opened up to other operating systems - with Microsoft's Windows Phone being the latest to adopt it.

Statistics from the Middle East show the story isn’t great either, with analysts claiming that BlackBerry’s share of the smartphone market in the Middle East and Africa region has dropped quarter-on-quarter from almost 20 percent in 2012 to just under 5 percent in Q1, 2014.

That said, in the UAE it is still proving popular, with Nielsen rating showing the Canadian telecoms icon holds 21 percent of the smartphone market, but with Samsung the runaway winner with 35 percent and Apple holding 24 percent. This is despite the fact that there was issues in the past with security of data and the availability of some functions and applications on newly launched models.

So can the company turn its fortunes around and does it have a future? It certainly still generates a lot of interest, the launch of the latest Z3 model spurred a lot of interest on among users when it was announced it would become available in the UAE from this week.

In terms of profit, the company last month posted a narrower-than-expected quarterly loss as its turnaround efforts appear to take hold. John Chen, who took the reins at BlackBerry late last year, has worked rapidly to trim costs, giving the Ontario-based company more time to stabilise its struggling handset business and earn more money from services and software.

With quarterly revenue down to $966 million, from $3.07 billion a year earlier, are consumers, retailers and analysts convinced Chen can achieve his goals and revitalise the company? Will the Z3 be the saviour everyone hopes?

We asked a select group of telecoms experts from various fields and from around the world to give us their two cents on some of the pertinent issues and many offered up further food for thought for BlackBerry and its customers.

The expert panel debating the issue consists of (in no particular order):

Christophe Corsie, Country Director, UAE, BlackBerry

Nabila Popal, Research Manager at International Data Corporation (IDC) MEA

Brandon Ackroyd, Head of Customer Insight and Mobile Phone Expert at

Nadeem Khanzadah, Head of Retail at Jumbo Electronics

Daniel Gleeson, Senior Analyst, Mobile Devices & Networks at IHS Technology

Manish Punjabi, Channel Marketing Manager at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

Michael G Jacobides, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School

Haritha Ramachandran, Industry Manager, Information and Communication Technologies Practice, Middle East and North Africa at consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan

Join the debate by having your own say in the comments section below

Click on the next page to hear from our first expert: Blackberry's own representative in the UAE...

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Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

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Posted by: Muhammad Shahbaz Yousuf

Follow Samsung strategy and they will success. Try and hire old Samsung marketing and research people and they implement the same strategy as they been doing in Samsung. Samsung has high end phone in price range of 600 USD which competes with Apple and Sony and they have low end touch screen phones in the price range of 50-150 USD which competes with any major brand in the world. So virtually, they command every type and kind of market in the world and yet they are profitable. The major advantage to Blackberry is they have the software and they can do wonders with that and easily takeover Samsung and other major brand share. To me Blackberry is a big brand like Apple and Samsung, so it should be leading the market too.

Posted by: Ahmed Asad

I believe the only way for RIM to survive (if it is not too late already) is to drop handset business and focus on software part only. They were doing great job on Operating system side at the beginning but with the launch of BB 10 platform they committed suicide.

Posted by: salem

BB lost its mojo long time ago, even when they had a chance to turn things into their way they failed to adapt to market trends in terms of design and applications.BB could not build a developer community to creat " an eco system" the way Apple created iTunes et al. They were good for email but email soon became old hat when it comes to consumers. BBM messaging was cool but it is not enough.

Posted by: DXBHeadhunter

Manish really hits the nail on the head. The all in data package from Blackberry while not quite unlimited (like the old days) means many business travelers can stay connected to their office and clients without returning home to a hefty bill for international data charges.

This combined with the fact that the BB is still a very secure mobile email platform means that the BB will always have a niche in the business world.

It is worth adding that the BB Curve, Bold and Q10 with their physical Qwerty keyboard are the only handsets I have ever been able to type messages into one handed! Only text input that worked as well was the old compact Sony P910i with its handwriting recognition and screen that allowed me to use my finger nail rather than the stylus!

Posted by: Ian Owen

Quite technical arguments here, which are very interesting.
But let's face facts, it's just not "cool" anymore to be seen with a BB. The "street cred" has been lost to the fruit company and Samsung. And rightly so, their devices look great, have tons of features and are vastly superior in use due to the intuitive user experience.
The longevity of a BB handset is really poor compared to Samsung/Apple, in my experience 1:3 or even 1:4, so you have to question the build quality and robustness. Cheap is not always economic!
Summary: it's not about getting "back-to-basics" or "focusing on core strengths", it's about find the "coolness" if BB want remain in the handset business.
Good luck.

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