A Tale of Two BlackBerry’s

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair

with apologies to Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Over the past decade we have witnessed the rise and fall of BlackBerry as a smartphone vendor. Yet during that time BlackBerry built up a significant intellectual property portfolio of smartphone hardware technology (think keyboard and wireless radio, for example) along with overall security software and network infrastructure for managing data flow, across the leading PC and mobile platforms and operating systems.

While BlackBerry continued to launch new smartphones over the past four years, none took off sufficiently to justify the continuation of developing and manufacturing hardware platforms within its operations. On the other hand BlackBerry expanded, largely through acquisitions, its range of enterprise security offerings while determining how to leverage their hardware portfolio through licensing agreements. One other key activity was its management of cash flow to keep its cash balance well into multi-billion dollar numbers; this was enhanced significantly in the past week by the announcement of an agreement to receive a $940,000,000 rebate of royalties inappropriately collected by Qualcomm (yes, that’s $940 million). BlackBerry’s other strength is its customer base for using QNX in the automobile market – with installations on over 60 million automobiles today; but that story, including the security aspects, requires a separate post.

A couple of years ago, BlackBerry abandoned its attempts to leverage its QNX software into a smartphone OS, called BB10, and launched smartphones – BlackBerry PRIV, DTEK 50 and60 – built around its hardware technology but using a security enhanced Android operating system. This included the embedding of security into not only BlackBerry’s Android OS but also into the smartphone’s firmware. While BlackBerry was responsible for developing the devices, they also turned over manufacturing to third party manufacturers based in China and other far east Asian countries. But in the end they worked out a hardware and software licensing agreement with TCL Corporation,

a Chinesemultinational electronics company headquartered in Huizhou, Guangdong Province. TCL designs, develops, manufactures and sells products including television sets, mobile phones, air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators and small electrical appliances. In 2010 it was the world’s 25th-largest consumer electronics producer. In 2013, it was third-largest television producer by market share.[2]

At CES 2017 in Las Vegas last January, TCL and BlackBerry announced that TCL had licensed BlackBerry’s portfolio and would operate under a sales and marketing subsidiary, TCL Communications North America, to deliver a new smartphone built around TCL’s hardware experience and BlackBerry’s security enhanced Android operating system

Offering carriers and retailers exceptional quality and value, backed by TCL’s world-class R&D and manufacturing capabilities, the TCL Communication portfolio will be anchored by the Alcatel and BlackBerry handset brands while continuing to evolve in 2017. This will include additional mobility offerings to be announced in the first half of the year that will allow the company to further address consumer demands. Among the first products in this portfolio is the latest BlackBerry smartphone, focused on three core features: security, productivity and reliability. Previewed at CES, the smartphone draws on unparalleled mobile security and software expertise to offer the most complete end-to-end smartphone security available on Android. (My italics).

Doing business under TCL Communication as BlackBerry Mobile, today marks the North American launch of its first offering, BlackBerry ONEkey. Working with a reinvigorated CrackBerry Kevin, there have been a series of demonstration events across North America; I attended one in March in Toronto and one in Waterloo two weeks ago. More to follow up in a separate post.

At this point it’s important to recognize there are now two “BlackBerry” business operations – the “original’ BlackBerry which has been transformed into an enterprise mobile security and automobile software publisher and BlackBerry Mobile, an independent vendor of mobile hardware platforms built around much of BlackBerry’s hardware and security software experience but leveraging TCL’s inherent manufacturing experience and efficiencies. Each business now has a core mission as their focus, building the appropriate resources for success for respective target markets.

At this point, execution becomes everything.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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