About two weeks ago BlackBerry board member Bert Nordberg gave an interview to the WSJ, in which he made some pretty interesting remarks. Personally, I think anything Nordberg says has to be taken seriously given his background as CEO of Sony Ericsson. For a good many years, Sony Ericsson was doing a great job of putting out high quality phones, and the joint venture was very profitable.
The WSJ reported that Nordberg said he believes BlackBerry “can continue to be a niche maker of mobile hardware.” But did he really say that? According to the article, he actually said, "I think BlackBerry is able to survive as a niche company. But being a niche company means deciding to be a niche company. Historically, BlackBerry has had larger ambitions. But battling giants like Apple, Google and Samsung is tough.”
Is it possible that he’s talking about being a niche player outside of the hardware market at some point? Because I can’t see the logic in BlackBerry creating hardware where the purpose is to be a small player in a big market. If you’re going to make smartphones that are specifically niche products then you have to charge a fortune to make sure they are very profitable. Think about Panasonic and their ToughBook line of rugged computers. It wasn’t uncommon to find corporations paying $5,000 for a laptop. Why would they buy a ToughBook? Because people who uses computers in the field aren’t going to use the same Dells or Lenovos that IT departments buy to power cubicle nation.
So if BlackBerry is to be a niche hardware vendor, they have to find a niche that is very specific in its needs and they have to raise prices dramatically. Otherwise they are competing in the mass market, and they need mass market volumes to make money.
But taking Nordberg’s quote as it was provided, it’s possible that he intends to push for BlackBerry to be a niche player without actually making hardware anymore. Along those lines, CrackBerry wants to dig deeper into what BlackBerry might look like without a device business.
If BlackBerry was to exist as a pure play software and services company what do you, our readers, think is the area they can add the most value? Is it by providing an amazing cross platform BBM experience that grows to become the most relevant communication app in the world? Can they monetize it as a corporate IM tool? What about a focus on the MDM market? Automotive, or other M2M verticals? We know there's a lot more to BlackBerry 10 than being just an operating system and ecosystem for mobile phones.
The Microsoft / Nokia news from clearly isn’t going to change anything in the short term, but it does pose a threat to BlackBerry turning into a solid #3 player in smartphones. And if they can’t be #3, they may as well play elsewhere. So have your say. Where is that elsewhere going to be?