BlackBerry is dead, said a section of the industry. Long live BlackBerry, said an increasingly diminishing tribe of loyalists.
To me, both are extreme views of a company that once redefined the concept of smartphones at one point in history but has since literally been washed away, first by an Apple tide that came much unexpectedly and later by an Android wave that has refused to subside.
It also is a historical fact now that BlackBerry’s attempts to resurge have repeatedly failed, thankfully due to a new reason each time. With BB OS7, the company failed to get the technology right and more recently, with BB OS10 it couldn’t get the pricing right.
Thankfully, the Prem Watsa-headed Fairfax Financial Holdings bid to buy out BlackBerry for $4.7 billion gives out a signal that there could still be much life left in the Canadian smartphone maker. Why, otherwise, would the Hyderabad-born Watsa, who has even earned the sobriquet of the “Canadian Warren Buffett” by some, have staked such fortune on a ship that a growing group of BB-atheists sees as a sinking one!
Indeed, the Fairfax bid—and especially Watsa’s interest—comes as an endorsement of BlackBerry’s worth, even though there have been mixed responses to the proposed deal from various financial quarters.
Watsa is considered to be a BlackBerry believer and history shows that he has retained a strategic interest in the company, the biggest testimony of which is the fact that Fairfax is the largest holder of the stock, at 10 percent.
If the deal gets through, on which Watsa has reportedly been confident, then the first major announcement is expected to be about taking the company private, much on the lines of Dell.
Just as Dell, BlackBerry too is in the need of a transformation. And there is little disagreement to the fact that such massive transformation is best done away from prying stock-market eyes and pressure to perform. The question is, how.
One already-talked-about possibility is that BlackBerry would transform into a mobile software-and-services company or more simply put, into a mobile apps-and-platform provider. A case in point is BBM, which was due to be rolled out for Android last week but the event was abruptly postponed. Is it just due to a lack of software-readiness or is there a rethink in progress?
The postponement has been so conspicuously close to the Fairfax bid development that there is also much reason to link the two events. It is quite likely that the potential buyer would like to scrutinize BBM more closely before it is offered as a third-party app or platform.
If investor-think is applied, it would like to make the process of unlocking the value of an asset as foolproof as possible. And while BBM may still enjoy a good reputation, it may no longer be the differentiating factor that it would have been a couple of years ago.
Today, there already is much competition in the mobile messaging segment, with the likes of WhatsApp, WeChat and LINE already fighting it out among themselves.
Given the situation, pitting BBM in an open battle against the more established mobile messaging apps would better be a more though-through move. If that is the case, it may be a good omen.

So optimum unlocking of assets will very likely be a tactical priority even as a strategic transformation is carried out. Successfully done, it could also help accelerate the transformation process.
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