John Chen, BlackBerry’s new head, is betting the farm on security and app-hacking paranoia to become Porsche of phones
BlackBerry’s new chief executive, John Chen, says apps don’t really matter and that his company could be the Porsche of smartphones.
Chen sees BlackBerry as serving a particular segment of the market – the Porsche of the phone market – where volume is not as important as serving the right sector.
“Take the automotive industry; it’s not all about volume. What do you call Porsche? What do you call Lamborghini?” said Chen talking to Forbes. “Porsche serves a particular segment of the market, doing well for its shareholders and owners. It always serves the market for a purpose, which is the whole point.”
BlackBerry shipped just 1.9m handsets during the last quarter of 2013, but customers bought a total of 4.3m handsets, resulting in a $4.4bn quarterly net loss in December 2013. Of those handsets sold, 3.2m were older BB7 models, leaving only 1.1m of BlackBerry’s newer BB10 handsets reaching customers’ hands.
‘CEOs whip out their BlackBerrys because of the keyboard’
The lack of native applications has often been highlighted as one of BlackBerry’s biggest weak points when compared with the iPhone and Android smartphones, but Chen said apps do not matter.
“You have CEOs of major companies who whip out their BlackBerrys because of the keyboard. They don’t care about apps,” Chen said, adding: “From a security point of view I’m starting to worry about where these apps are actually coming from.”
Chen’s plan to turn around the sinking company is to target the secure portable device market, highlighting regulated industries including governments, financial services and health care.
He said at least two large European companies have bucked a recent trend, which has seen employees permitted to bring their own devices to work – be they Android, iPhone, Windows Phone or other devices – reversing that policy having identified it as a major security risk.
“After Angela Merkel was hacked she moved straight to a BlackBerry,” Chen said.
Regulated industries that prioritise security and productivity ahead of communication account for 30% of IT spending, according to Chen. BlackBerry started out as a provider of secure email and communications for large “enterprise” businesses, before entering the consumer market, which has seen its profits slide as companies like Apple and Samsung proved too strong a competition.
Chen has previously said that more than 80% of BlackBerry’s existing user base is enterprise customers. BlackBerry’s future could lie in providing “mobile device management” (MDM) services for Apple and Android devices as well as BlackBerrys, which has proved profitable for the company in the past.
• BlackBerry’s BBM chief left suddenly in February, causing questions to be raised over the future of the service
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