BlackBerry Ltd is a far cry from the smartphone giant is was a few years back. The company’s handset sales have just about plummeted into irrelevancy. Deserted by carriers, distributors and app developers alike, the Canadian tech giant’s phone business is struggling to keep its head above water.
Although BlackBerry is still a long way from recovery, the company’s latest handset, the Priv, is thought to be making great steps towards stopping the bleeding. However, Facebook Inc has just given BlackBerry another gaping wound. It was revealed this week that the social network’s texting app — WhatsApp Messenger — will no longer support BlackBerry’s operating system by the end of 2016.
This decision will no doubt block a lot of BlackBerry’s avenues for handset growth. In fact, it seems it will leave only one path available — Android.
BlackBerry’s smartphone decline
Today the name BlackBerry triggers a bit of nostalgia. Not too long ago, the company single-handedly made typing and scrolling with your thumbs fun and easy on the most efficient and safest handsets around. Fortune once rated BlackBerry as the world’s fastest growing company back in 2009. However, those days are gone now and the firm’s handsets continuously fail to find growth.
Back in 2011, BlackBerry Ltd would gather unit sales of 13.2 million in the space of three months. That number has fallen to around a million in recent quarters. Last year, BlackBerry lost its place as the world’s third-largest mobile OS. This spot was filled by Samsung’s Tizen. Although Tizen is pretty much unheard of in the western world, it has grown in leaps and bounds in eastern demographics. Asia quickly came to like Tizen. It’s fast adoption subsequently knocked BlackBerry out of place.
It seems that no matter what new device the company releases, from the Bold to the Leap to the Passport, sales continue to plummet.
App makers desert BlackBerry
Regardless of its poor performance, the company continued to hold high standards, especially with its security. BlackBerry is notoriously strict when it comes to the apps it allows on its phones. But lowered sales meant reduced exposure for these apps. Soon developers found that creating apps for the OS was simply more trouble than it was worth. As the company’s user base withered away, more app makers subsequently lost interest as well.
To address this, the company resorted, in part, to what it dived into three months ago. Since apps that were specifically made for BlackBerry were scarce, it began adopting apps from Android. The problem with this was that these apps weren’t initially designed for BlackBerry. Imported apps held numerous bugs and crashed far too regularly. Another thing that didn’t go unnoticed was that Android apps usually have a completely different look and feel to BlackBerry’s. This gave users a largely felt sense of inauthenticity. From the user’s viewpoint, it looked like BlackBerry just wasn’t trying anymore.
BlackBerry was losing on a number of fronts. This was evident in the firm’s crumbling share price. Every loss lead to another. Its devices failed to rake in sales. Poor sales failed to please its investors. Poor investment took its toll on the company’s stock value. Apps turned away from the platform, and its users were left displeased.
Despite its trend of defeat, the company CEO, John Chen, was adamant that the company could regain its lost market share from the likes of Apple Inc. and Samsung. They just needed to do something new and appealing.
“We think we can make money on the phones,” Chen said in June last year. The comment was offered as an assurance to investors, who were understandably displeased after another quarter of losses. It was clear at this point that the company’s next handset had to be something entirely revolutionary.
Enter the BlackBerry Priv
BlackBerry is suspected to be making some kind of a mild comeback through the Priv. The gadget is the company’s first to run Alphabet Inc’s Android OS. The switch was a smart one, if not inevitable. After all, Android is the world’s undisputed leading mobile OS.
The Priv was widely anticipated. It promised the best of both worlds: all the conveniences of Android coupled with the top notch security expected of BlackBerry. The new device was released in November and practically flew off the shelves. The initial success was so great that BlackBerry had to delay its next shipment of Priv handsets in order to adjust for its demand. Reviews across the Web had mostly great things to about it as well. Even major retailers like Wal-Mart and BestBuy could not hold on to their Priv stock.
It was clear from the device’s launch hype that Andriod was BlackBerry Ltd’s salvation all along. It should be noted though that until its official performance figures are released, news of the device’s success is only speculative. However, it is safe to say that the Priv does carry promise. The gadget’s launch turned BlackBerry into the handset maker that offers two operating systems. Better yet, with the rumored release of a second Android phone, consumers could soon find themselves spoiled for choice.
That is a clearly optimistic approach though. It’s an approach that ignores the fact that BlackBerry’s own OS option will render users unable to access one of the world’s leading and most convenient communication tools. WhatsApp says it can’t continue to support the BlackBerry operating system, including the latest BlackBerry 10 OS.
WhatsApp gives up on BlackBerry
According to WhatsApp, the BlackBerry OS simply doesn’t offer the resources it needs to fuel its growth anymore. It was lumped together with platforms like Nokia S40, Nokia Symbian S60, Android 2.1 and 2.2, as well as Windows 7.1. WhatsApp says that all these platforms will not be able to run its app by the end of 2016.
But the company is safe since it has switched to Android, right? Well, not quite. Though it is a way out, it probably won’t be enough to save its handsets. Currently, the number of BlackBerry users utilizing the company’s in-house OS greatly outweighs those using the three month-old Priv.
WhatsApp has a billion monthly users globally. There are millions of BlackBerry OS users around the world who obviously contribute to that figure. That’s millions of BlackBerry users who will wake up sometime later this year only to find out that their go-to messaging tool no longer runs on their smartphones. And how do you suppose these people will react?
“Oh well, it’s a good thing there’s an Android-powered BlackBerry available for the low, low price of $700”? Probably not. In truth, they are more likely to vow never to purchase another BlackBerry again.
Losing the support of minor apps is a bearable loss. If you had asked me last week if BlackBerry’s smartphone business had a fighting chance, I might have been optimistic. Losing the support of WhatsApp? That’s a nail in the coffin.
It will be interesting to see how the Ontario-based firm will bounce back from this one.