BlackBerry CEO John Chen Says Firm Could Quit Phones

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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BlackBerry could focus on services if smartphone operations continue to be unprofitable

BlackBerry CEO John Chen says the struggling Canadian manufacturer is prepared to abandon the smartphone business if it remains unprofitable and would instead focus entirely on its service division, while also expand its portfolio with new investments, acquisitions and partnerships.

The Waterloo-based firm was once the market leader in smartphones and shipped a peak of 52.3 million devices during its fiscal 2011.

However the firm has now slipped to two million phones a quarter and is falling behind the likes of Apple and Samsung, who have managed to create more appealing devices that also offer some of the security and management features valued by BlackBerry customers.

BlackBerry smartphones

john chen blackberry 2“If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business,” Chen told Reuters. He said the timeframe for such a decision was a short one, although he believes it possible to make money from ten million shipments a year.

Chen was appointed late last year in an effort to stage a recovery following the failure to find a buyer for the company, which was put up for sale last September. Devices targeted at the enterprise market, specifically ones featuring physical keyboards, have been mentioned as a pillar of Chen’s strategy, but it is now clear that this element could be dropped.

Other areas of his focus include the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES) enterprise mobility platform, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and its QNX embedded operating system. Indeed, Chen hopes that the company can play a role in connected the Internet of Things.

Return to profitability

He also said that BlackBerry is looking to invest or team up with other companies in regulated industries such as the health, finance and legal sectors, which require secure communications, while he added that acquisitions that strengthen BlackBerry’s network security might also be possible.

Chen is adamant that BlackBerry could return to profitability by the end of March 2016, and said that the firm was “ahead of schedule” despite losing £3.5 billion during the previous financial year. However he freely admitted that time was not on his side and that it was necessary to have a short term plan to keep the company afloat while also planning for the future.

Last week, BlackBerry ended its licensing agreement with T-Mobile USA following a highly publicised spat between the two firms over the American operator’s promotions targeted at BlackBerry users.

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