BlackBerry news: sale considered, BB7 phone launched, car deal sealed

A potential sale of the company, the launch of another phone, and the striking up of a new deal – BlackBerry Ltd. has certainly made itself a headline-generator this week.

With all the news coming out from the Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone maker, we’ve created a roundup of stories here:

A sale looming ahead?
Yesterday, speculation abounded when BlackBerry made a statement before the opening bell, saying it had formed a special board committee to review the company’s options – and one of those options would be a sale, reports MarketWatch.

On Monday, BlackBerry said the committee would also be thinking about other possibilities, like joint ventures or strategic partnerships, sending the stock up seven per cent to $10.45 by Monday. As of this writing, BlackBerry’s share price was even higher, coming in at $12.06.

So far, the only interested bidder that has emerged has been Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., BlackBerry’s largest shareholder. It owns about 10 per cent of the company, according to a story in the Globe and Mail.

The Globe also reported Prem Watsa, an investor who controls Fairfax, stepped down from BlackBerry’s board of directors to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Sales of BlackBerry's BB10 handsets, including the BlackBerry Q10 pictured above, were disappointing.
Sales of BlackBerry’s BB10 handsets, including the BlackBerry Q10 pictured above, were disappointing.

While Microsoft Corp. and other companies outside Canada once indicated they were interested in scooping up BlackBerry, the process would be an arduous one as a foreign buyer would have to receive government approval.

The beleaguered smartphone maker has been struggling to prove it can rebound from its past low showings, despite hopes it would turn its fortunes around with the BlackBerry 10 platform. Despite the platform’s release, sales of BB10 devices were disappointing, and it’s been yet another difficult year for a company that once put Canadian smartphone technology on the map.

Still, not everyone believes BlackBerry is headed for the rocks.

“Everybody thinks they’re going to be sold, they’re going down the tube, it’s terrible,” said Carl Howe, an industry analyst for the Yankee Group. He spoke to IT World Canada reporter Howard Solomon yesterday.

“[But] it’s usually hard to go out of business if you’re making money each quarter,” he added, saying in his books, market share results don’t count for very much. “The real kicker for me is ‘Did people pay money for my product? Did I make money selling those products? Am I making money on the services I sell to them?’ The answers on at least two out of three of those questions has been yes.”

New phone launch – the BlackBerry 9720
If watching the stock market isn’t a good indication of where a company is at, as Howe says he believes, the real bellwether is whether its products are selling.

It’s possible BlackBerry shares the same mindset. Today, it officially launched the BlackBerry 9720 handset, serving up a new phone that shares a lot of the same features as the ones hailing from the BlackBerry Curve series.

The original BlackBerry Curve came out in 2007, and since then there have been several iterations following its success. But considering BlackBerry has been pushing its BB10 platform, it’s interesting the 9720 runs not on that platform, but with the BB7 operating system, reports Engadget.

The phone has a 2.8-inch 480 x 360 display, with a thumbpad that looks a lot like what came with the Curve phones. Its rear camera shoots photos at five megapixels, and it comes with 512 megabytes of RAM.

As the 9720 seems slated for emerging markets, it should be at a lower price point. The phone should be released in Europe, Asia, and Latin America in the next few weeks.

QNX and Panasonic team up
There does appear to be a bright spot for BlackBerry – on Tuesday, BlackBerry subsidiary QNX Software Systems Ltd., announced it had landed the rights to create “infotainment” systems for Panasonic. The systems will appear in cars in North America, Europe, and Japan.

The agreement, hammered out between QNX and Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America, will see the two companies working together on R&D for in-car applications. They plan to leverage the QNX CAR platform, which connects smartphones and cars to provide features like connecting Apple iPhones and iPods, parking searches, navigation, Internet radio streaming, a mobile-based Twitter app, and weather updates.

Still, not even QNX can escape some of the negativity surrounding BlackBerry’s future prospects right now. The Ottawa-based software company had been doing a fair amount of hiring in June, reports Vito Pileci of the Ottawa Citizen. But now, it’s suspended all new hiring and has even done some “small” workplace reductions, according to a BlackBerry spokeswoman.

For BlackBerry investor Vic Alboini, CEO of Jaguar Financial, the QNX platform should be BlackBerry’s main focus. While it was once the leader in smartphones, it should abandon that in favour of focusing on QNX, Alboini said in an interview with Solomon.

“They’re almost out of the smartphone business,” he said. “It’s time to fish or cut bait.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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