UPDATED: Reuters reached out to explain things. They claim the original quote from their story is accurate and was part of a bigger off-camera interview. It was still out of context, but it wouldn't be fair to suggest they misquoted, so I've updated the text.
Yesterday turned out to be a pretty big mess as far as BlackBerry news goes. Last night Reuters posted a brief story quoted John Chen saying they might get out of the handset business. Once a video interview was posted, it looked like a misquote (but wasn't) and snowballed down from there.
Here’s what went down: First, Reuters posted this story at 7:45 P.M. which quotes John Chen as saying, “If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business”. Since this was a quote from an interview it’s natural that people took as an accurate statement. The only problem with this quote is he didn’t actually say those words in the video interview that followed. I and many others saw the message from the video vs. the original Reuters story as conflicting. But Reuters tells me this quote was part of a longer (one hour) interview with about 20 people in the room, and he did actually say this. I'm including the shorter video interview (which is created by the TV side of Reuters, not the news side) below.
I watched the video two times. I took detailed notes. I think Reuters should have realized their original story wouldn't fit with the context of what was presented in the video interview. Chen’s blog post addressing this issue lines up well with my take on the video interview content. He just says that his comments were taken out of context. So beyond the headline-grabbing first quote what exactly did Chen have to say in the interview? The interview was full of great material for BlackBerry fans to digest. Nothing seems to be new information, but I think it helps paint a more clear picture of John Chen’s master plan. Here are a few of the most useful bits from my perspective:
- The handset business is still really important.This part was unmistakably clear. Chen was asked directly if the handsets were the least of his priorities. He said he put equal weight on handsets and the other parts of the business because he needs to offer an end to end solution. He was crystal clear about his expectations that he will get the handset business to profitability. Even when asked what he’d do if he could not make it profitable he simply said he might need to get others to build more handsets for him. I take this to mean more business heading to Foxconn and less internally designed stuff. The bottom line is that Chen in no way suggested he wants to stop selling phones.
- They’ve been successful convincing customers to wait on the latest BES technology Chen said that when customers hear their plans they think the plan makes sense. He further said that they’ve been successful in getting customers to take a “wait and see attitude” on the launch of new BlackBerry server products in November of this year. Unless Chen’s ability to calibrate the truthfulness of his customers is way off, I think we’re now looking at a a case of execution risk more than anything else. If customers haven’t left BlackBerry by now, they may as well see what the company brings to market this year. No point in making a hasty decision before then.
- He thinks the company is “rightfully” undervalued.With respect to the stock, Chen said, “I think the company is very undervalued … rightfully so. There have been a lot of issues in the past 2 or 3 years.I think our roadmap makes sense. Our assets are there. What I’m trying to do is make sure we deploy the best of our assets to what the market needs”. He follows up by saying, “I’m hoping that the shareholder thinks that this is a good share to bet on because the downside is very limited, but there is going to be very good upside.”
I feel Reuters would have better served its readers by focusing on more of these details rather than pulling out one quote that didn't seem to fit with the bigger picture of how he was answering questions.The truth that I'd rather have seen Reuters focus on is that BlackBerry is working very hard to execute on its product roadmap for this year while communicating with re-engaging with customers who probably haven’t heard form them in a long time prior to Chen’s arrival. The whole story right now (for 2014) is re-building BES revenue to replace the shrinking BIS and hardware revenue, while also trying to bring the hardware business to (slight) profitability. Nothing has really changed. Chen just did a nice job of summarizing exactly what his focus is.