BitDepth#899 - August 20

Blackberry announces that it is in the market for a buyer, ending more than a year of speculation about the company's ability to pull itself out of a cycle of decline.
What happened?

The Blackberry Z10 was designed to save the smartphone innovator from marketplace extinction. It has not done so.
Photograph courtesy Blackberry.

Over the last fortnight, the fortunes and prospects of two of the technology world’s giants stumbled badly.
For Blackberry, formerly known as Research in Motion, it was the public acknowledgement that its efforts at a market resurrection had failed and it was considering putting out the for sale sign.

Serious technology executives would never say such a thing, they say things like “now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives.”
Which is what you do when your existing plan has gone down in flames.

The writing has been on the wall for some time for the troubled smartphone manufacturer, who finally built and brought to market the Z10 and Q10 this year.
Both were great phones that would have done well four years ago and cemented Blackberry’s enviable position as a provider of secure communications for business and the purveyor of BBM, the attractive messaging solution that the company piggybacked on its server systems.

In 2012, the company shed 5,000 workers, cutting $1 billion from its operating costs. In its most recent financial quarter, it remained immersed in red ink, sinking under a loss of $84 million.
It shouldn’t have been impossible for a popular brand like Blackberry to reclaim some of its cachet, but the new platform it debuted this year was entirely too much like its competition without offering any of the advantages of scale.

Third place is a tough place for a technology company to work in, but fourth place is untenable unless you keep your costs firmly in check and have a loyal market that loves your brand.
Once Windows Phone 8 began to surge ahead of Blackberry’s new offerings to become the third place alternative in the hotly contested smartphone wars, the company formerly known as RIM faced an almost impossible challenge to encourage developers to stick with the platform.

With three distinct platforms competing for their attention, developers were already targeting iOS, Android and Windows Phone and didn’t seem keen on addressing Blackberry’s desperate need for a compelling app store in time to make a difference to the company’s fortunes.
What Blackberry offers a potential purchaser is an attractive portfolio of patents and technology, including a widely admired secure e-mail platform and its BBM technology but it’s going to have do some serious work to dress for the dance if it wants to court a serious suitor.

Steady technology advancements have begun to erode even those crown jewels in a market place that’s drifted inexorably to open, popular application programming interfaces.
Today’s smartphone users want their software to exchange information freely, for their documents on DropBox to open in their handheld word processor of choice without fuss to offer just one example.

The Microsoft/Nokia partnership may be in promising third place behind Apple and Samsung with Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia line, but that hasn’t saved Microsoft from having its own problems.
After the failure of Windows RT, Microsoft’s legacy free version of its new operating system, the company took a hit of almost a billion dollars in hard US currency.

Seven years ago, Microsoft, Nokia and RIM were the kings of their business sectors, infallible and assured, their products were the standard for business users, mobile telephony and smartphones respectively.
Nokia and Blackberry have been hit particularly hard by the touchscreen mobile smartphone revolution, but Microsoft shouldn’t be willing to sit too comfortably in its traditional dominance of business computing.

While it remains true that nobody ever got fired in a corporate environment for buying Microsoft’s products, growth has been sluggish even in its corporate stronghold and the company has conspicuously failed to establish a convincing presence in tablet computing, smartphone use and consumer content consumption.
Many users are working with the company’s newest operating system, Windows 8, in spite of its newest features, not because of them.
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