BlackBerry, once king of the smartphone market, now finds itself considering 'strategic options.' Here's how it all came apart.
Watching BlackBerry stumble and fall during the last few years has not been pleasant. The company once stood at the top of the smartphone market. Its smartphones were carried by mobile professionals in the tens of millions. These devices were the envy of the office, and the company helped push mobility in new and exciting directions.
And then everything went wrong.
The company made a number of mistakes along the way that led to its current position at the bottom of the smartphone market. It's still losing share. BlackBerry this week announced that it is exploring strategic options, including an outright sale of the company to investors or other third parties. BlackBerry is close to the end of the road and desperately seeking an escape route.
Here's how BlackBerry found itself trapped with nowhere to go.
1. It Wrote Off The iPhone
Former BlackBerry co-CEO Mike Lazaridis scoffed at the original iPhone. He thought it was a toy. He derided its poor battery life and balked at the idea that anyone would want to type on glass when BlackBerrys offered full QWERTY keyboards.
The original iPhone may not be impressive by today's standards, but there's no denying that it forever altered the smartphone paradigm. It offered a big screen, a capable browser and the best music/video experiences available from a mobile device, something that BlackBerrys (and most other smartphones at the time) did not.
As the saying goes, BlackBerry didn't adapt -- at least, not fast enough -- to the changes in the market. Classic Darwinism in action. (Nokia is guilty of this too.)
The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is one of the biggest tech industry failures in in recent memory. The company introduced the tablet during the fall of 2010 (following the debut of the original Apple iPad tablet earlier that year), and brought the PlayBook to market in April 2011.
BlackBerry's leadership probably thought it was responding to the Apple iPad in a timely manner, getting a competitive product to market as quickly as it could. It did this at the expense of its smartphones. BlackBerry pulled resources away from its smartphone development teams in the months leading up to the PlayBook's debut. Instead, it should have skipped the tablet altogether and focused on its core smartphone business, which was already in trouble. (Handset sales historically are responsible for 80% of BlackBerry's revenue.)
The one thing BlackBerry did right with the PlayBook was to base the operating system on QNX, which it had purchased earlier. QNX and PlayBook OS eventually led to the foundation of today's BlackBerry 10 operating system. If BlackBerry had only skipped the PlayBook and begun work on BlackBerry 10 right away, it might have had a better chance.
3. BlackBerry Didn't Fire Lazaridis And Balsillie Soon Enough
BlackBerry's former CEOs, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, are far more responsible for the company's position today than is current CEO Thorsten Heins. Lazaridis and Balsillie were bullheaded and unwilling to change with the market. They ignored competitive threats from Apple and Google, they frittered away time and money pursuing the PlayBook, and by the time they realized their mistakes it was too late.
BlackBerry's board of directors should have recognized this sooner and done something about it. It was obvious to everyone else that Lazaridis and Balsillie didn't know how to handle the changing market.
Why did the board not see it? Had BlackBerry's board noticed the writing on the wall 12 months earlier, the company might be in a much better place right now. Was the board scared of what would happen if it fired the two founders of the company?
Lazaridis and Balsille stepped down from their co-CEO roles in December 2011, ceding control to Heins, who officially became CEO in January 2012. Heins hit the ground running, but BlackBerry was already too far behind to catch up.
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