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BlackBerry's square smartphone and other desperate moves

Galen Gruman | July 21, 2014
The company is attacking competitors and talking up a square smartphone, when what it needs to do is shut up and deliver.

When you're desperate, you sometimes do stupid things, though they only worsen your already dire situation. That's what's happening at BlackBerry, the struggling smartphone maker now lashing out at a world it doesn't like while continuing to play at product designs that make no sense.

A year ago, the company brought in a new CEO to turn the page on seven years' worth of denial that people wanted smartphones to do more than secure messaging. BlackBerry execs pooh-poohed the iPhone, then Android as silly consumer fads, even as more and more businesses adopted at least the iPhone as a secure corporate standard. Last year, the U.S. military granted both the iPhone and some Android devices (those secured with Samsung's Knox service). No surprise that BlackBerry's market share is in single digits, down from industry dominance a decade ago.

That new CEO, John Chen, has talked about returning to BlackBerry's strengths: supersecure messaging. That's a small market, but a lucrative one, and frankly it's the only place where BlackBerry has a shot of being relevant. But that's a tough nut to crack because, well, BlackBerrys with even the decent BlackBerry 10 OS don't do much more than serve as messaging devices. The app market for BlackBerry is, simply put, pathetic. And people get smartphones for a helluva lot more uses than messaging.

By attacking competitors, BlackBerry reinforces its desperation
Is BlackBerry working to create a set of compelling, even if niche, apps to make the BlackBerry more than a fancy text-messaging device? It doesn't seem so. Instead, it attacks competitors like Good Technology, MobileIron, and SGP Technologies (maker of the new highly secure Android-based Blackphone).

Vendors routinely say they're better than their competitors, but BlackBerry is doing it in an obnoxious way that reeks of desperation, with a "fact check" campaign modeled after smeary election ads. Frankly, all it does is portray BlackBerry as petty and defensive. A self-confident company wouldn't roll in the mud of perceived slights and alleged misperceptions.

Given BlackBerry's multiple years of denying reality and claiming apps, iPhones, consumerization, and so on were fads that right-thinking companies would one day recant, this latest hyperdefensiveness brings back to mind all that denial -- not what you want to remind customers of.

When BlackBerry slams competitors for daring to say they offer relatively high levels of security, it instead reminds us all how far BlackBerry has fallen -- and how its supersecurity pitch is overkill for most users.

For most companies, what mobile management providers like Citrix, Good, and MobileIron provide for the iPhone and even Android is fully adequate. The Blackphone -- whose name is no doubt meant to trade on BlackBerry's security reputation, as well as the "black ops" phrase used in spy circles -- is interesting because it brings a deeper level of information security to Android than anything else has to date.


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