BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin are considering a bid for the company, according to documents filed with the SEC. It’s yet another option for the beleaguered smartphone maker, which might be sold for parts, acquired by Fairfax Financial Holdings, or left to reduce costs by laying off employees and focusing on its enterprise businesses.
In true BlackBerry fashion, it’s another stall masquerading as advancement — and that might be just what the company needs.
It was under Lazaridis’ and former co-CEO Jim Balsillie’s guidance that BlackBerry failed to respond to the iPhone and all the changes it brought to the smartphone industry. Then they failed to offer a compelling alternative to the iPad, opting instead to release the PlayBook, a small tablet that failed to appeal to both consumer and business customers. The company continued to sell its signature smartphones, but an increasing number of people elected to use iPhones or Android smartphones instead of BlackBerry devices, even in the corporate world BlackBerry had dominated for so long.
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has tried to change that by introducing an all-touchscreen device meant to compete with the iPhone and Android smartphones; by releasing BlackBerry Messenger across a variety of platforms instead of limiting it to the company’s products; and by working to make BlackBerry a platform instead of a series of products. (He also brought Alicia Keys in as the company’s creative director for some unknown reason.) The efforts have yet to provide value to the company.
The company took a $900 million writedown for unsold inventory of that all-touchscreen device, the BlackBerry Z10. BlackBerry Messenger missed its launch date after an early version of the Android app was leaked to file-sharing sites and effectively crippled the service’s underlying architecture. BlackBerry remains a smartphone maker instead of a platform provider. Every advancement the company attempts to make somehow leads to more problems.
Fittingly, it was Lazaridis who recognized that expanding BlackBerry’s scope might prove to be the company’s undoing. According to an exhaustive investigative report from the Globe and Mail, he warned against releasing the Z10 and blocked Balsillie’s attempts to expand BlackBerry Messenger outside of the company’s platform. He and Fregin acquiring the company would be yet another example of BlackBerry’s inability to evolve beyond the way it existed in the ’90s, but so far that seems to be what its customers expect.
BlackBerry’s products have long been compared to crack. People are addicted to the physical keyboards, BlackBerry Messenger, and the company’s down-to-business software. Sure, there might be more money to be found peddling other drugs, but other companies have proven themselves more than capable of selling those different fixes to the masses.
CrackBerry needs a dealer who can recognize that, and Lazaridis seems to be the right man for the job.
[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]