Struggling smartphone maker BlackBerry is considering putting itself up for sale in a bid to turn around its fortunes.
When BlackBerry’s handsets first launched onto the market in 1999, they were one of the most coveted pieces of technology around – the first choice of high-flying business people with busy lives that needed organising.
But when Apple’s iPhone was introduced seven years later, BlackBerry struggled to retain its share of the market, a problem that was exacerbated by the popularity of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy devices.
Changing the company name from Research in Motion (RIM) to BlackBerry this year coincided with the two handsets designed to get the firm back on track – the BlackBerry Z10 and the BlackBerry Q10.
But, despite favourable reaction from critics and consumers, the new releases haven’t been enough to save BlackBerry in its current form and, forced to choose between going down the route of a joint venture or a sale, BlackBerry is understood to have opted for the sale option.
Timothy Dattels, chairman of a special committee set up to look at BlackBerry’s options, said: “Given the importance and strength of our technology, and the evolving industry and competitive landscape, we believe that now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives.”
Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight said BlackBerry had been too “slow off the blocks when smartphones came out” and had found it impossible to catch up with Apple and Samsung who now have a formidable lead in the market.
Even price reductions for BlackBerry’s new handsets have failed to improve sales, with share prices tumbling as the new operating system fails to meet expectations.
Rumours are rife that BlackBerry’s biggest shareholder, Fairfax Financial, may emerge as a buyer after its chairman Prem Watsa resigned from the BlackBerry board, putting his decision down to potential conflicts of interest – or that Watsa himself may emerge as a backer in a private equity buyout.
It could be, however, that BlackBerry is broken up and sold off in parts. Its library of technology patents and the enterprise division which provides still-popular security technology to governments and top companies across the world could prove profitable.
Anyone with a spare $5bn will be in with more than a fighting chance of purchasing BlackBerry. At the end of June, BlackBerry is said to have had cash and investments worth around $3.1bn. The company’s patents’ portfolio is estimated to be worth another $2bn.
But, however much it sells for, BlackBerry’s chief executive Thorsten Heins said this was not the end of the road for BlackBerry and the technology it will continue to offer to consumers. “We continue to see compelling long-term opportunities for BlackBerry 10,” he said, adding: “We have exceptional technology that customers are embracing, we have a strong balance sheet and we are pleased with the progress that has been made in our transition.”
We will just have to wait to see what form that transition eventually leaves BlackBerry in.