Repercussions for marketers as mobile ecosystem evolves into duopoly
By Chantal Tode
September 24, 2013
Fairfax wants to take BlackBerry private
With BlackBerry being taken private and effectively exiting the consumer sector, it increasingly looks like the goal of having a competitive third mobile ecosystem after Android and iOS may be a pipe dream.
Not too long ago, the mobile handset manufacturing industry was dominated by companies with strong ties to telecommunications, such as BlackBerry and Nokia. However, with Nokia recently being acquired by Microsoft and the significant gains made by iOS and Android over the past few years, it is clear that mobile computing companies are the new leaders.
“The need for a third ecosystem as far as the consumer is concerned is debatable,” said Nick Spencer, London-based senior practice director for mobile devices, applications and content at ABI Research. “It is more about the industry wanting to have a balanced market by having three players.
“So you’ve seen all those telecom manufacturers fall away and they are being replaced by mobile computing firms, which is Android and iOS,” he said. “Samsung has moved with that and adopted Android.
“The jury is still out on Nokia.”
From bad to worse
The situation has unraveled quickly at BlackBerry over the past few days, starting with projections of steep quarterly losses, followed up the postponement of the BBM release on iOS and Android and cumulating in the news today that Fairfax Financial Holdings hopes to buy BlackBerry $4.7 billion.
The news was not unexpected.
Prem Watsa, who heads up Toronto-based Fairfax, spent seven months on the BlackBerry board, exiting just last month under rumors that he was planning to orchestrate a buyout. Mr. Watsa is BlackBerry’s largest shareholder, with almost 10 percent of the company’s shares.
Still, it is how quickly the situation has progressed that has taken some industry analysts by surprise.
BlackBerry said late last week that it would report a large quarterly operating loss of up to $995 million this week and cut a more than a third of its workforce.
Then, over the weekend, the company said it would postpone the rollout of its BlackBerry Messenger mobile social messaging service for iOS and Android.
Yesterday, came the news of the Fairfax deal, which – if approved - will take BlackBerry private so that it can take even more aggressive steps to try to turnaround the company.
However, so far there is only a letter of intent from Fairfax and how the deal will be financed is still unclear.
“Blackberry going down is an emotional and historical mark in the landscape of mobile telecoms but so are Fax machines,” said Bob Egan, founder of Sepharim Group.
“Despite allusions of grandeur, Blackberry's enterprise share is in the 20 percent range and sinking – and that share is largely made up of older BB7 corporate liable type devices,” he said. “Blackberry's enterprise share for its new BB10 devices is less than 1 percent.
“I think in terms of enterprise mobility management, it’s been over for BlackBerry for more than a year.”
Refocusing on enterprise market
In a statement announcing the potential deal, Mr. Watsa emphasized that the intention is to refocus BlackBerry on the enterprise market, which is where it historically grew from and has been strongest.
BlackBerry moved toward a blended enterprise, consumer strategy over the past couple of years as the consumer side of the mobile industry took off significantly.
Given how quickly the mobile industry is evolving, it is not clear that a standalone enterprise strategy makes sense any longer.
“I don’t think for the consumer it is that significant [a development],” ABI Research’s Mr. Spencer said.
“There are some questions over their idea that the enterprise market is still separate from the consumer market,” he said. “If you have a healthy operating system platform, it is going to be a rich ecosystem, which means it has applications for both enterprises and consumers.
“I think it is quite difficult to see a large market that is a very specifically enterprise device market. And by far the larger market is consumer anyway.”
Microsoft could benefit
BlackBerry also faces growing competition in the enterprise market, where Apple and Samsung have both put a big focus over the past couple of years in recognition of the growing number of consumers who are using their personal mobile devices in the work environment as part of the bring-your-own-device trend.
Other smartphone players could benefit from BlackBerry’s exit from the consumer segment.
“Without BlackBerry, Microsoft via Nokia stands to benefit the most, although in the end it may be whomever buys BlackBerry's key security patents and tech which may go up for sale beyond this ‘buyer,’” Seraphim Group’s Mr. Egan said.
While Microsoft could benefit on the consumer side of its mobile business, BlackBerry’s decision to refocus on the enterprise segment could be bad news for Windows.
Nokia and Samsung could also benefit on the consumer side.
“Liberated from the distractions of the consumer market, Blackberry can deepen its relationships with its enterprise base, leveraging the server business,” said Wally Swain, senior vice president of emerging markets at Yankee Group, Boston.
“That will put pressure on Nokia/Microsoft which wants to move into that space as well, taking advantage of existing Microsoft relationships with CIOs,” he said.
Iit is still not clear if BlackBerry will continue to look to license its software such as BBM or what exactly its play in the enterprise market will entail.
It is possible BlackBerry will look to build some sort of a secure mobile workspace for employees.
"I think that $4.7 billion is a lot to pay given the trajectory,” ABI Research’s Mr. Spencer said. “You wonder what the strategy is? Are they going to exit the hardware market? Will they just have a software and services play?
“They might decide on offering an enterprise suite of services with a secure enterprise workspace for different operating systems,” he said.
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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