It seems like forever ago that if you were buying a smartphone, you were buying a BlackBerry. That wasn’t that long ago, really, but in ‘tech years’ it was an eternity. A generation has come of age in a world where Apple and Android fought for handset supremacy and BlackBerry, the grandfather of the smartphone, was as passé as a home telephone.
The company could have folded, faded, or, tried to claw its way back into the increasingly crowded smartphone market, but they didn’t. Instead, BlackBerry diversified, leading to the recent news that the company topped projected forecasts, thanks in large part to its new endeavors in software and services.
The transition from trend-setting hardware company to also-ran to software giant didn’t happen overnight. Change was gradual, and it was tough. New CEO John Chen came in late in 2013, and set about helping BlackBerry transform to not only survive but thrive.
Initially, those ideas met with some pushback. After all, BlackBerry practically invented the business smartphone. Couldn’t they retake some of the market lost to Apple or Android or Google? Well, now we won’t know, because Chen wisely moved his company in a different direction. BlackBerry is still active in the smartphone handset market, but, like Microsoft, the company had seen the writing on the wall and chose to shift.
Today, hardware makes up less than one percent of BlackBerry’s total sales, according to CNN. You read that right: less than one percent. Instead, BlackBerry is banking on licensing deals for companies that run BlackBerry software on their handsets.
Plus, BlackBerry is building apps to sell on the Android market. Making cash off the completion? Looks like a pretty effective strategy so far. Another aspect of that strategy? Partnerships, Chen told CNN: “Partnerships are a big part of our strategy, especially when you are in the software business. It’s what you have to do…”
Those partnerships include making navigation software and cyber security tools for auto manufacturers…and that’s just the beginning of the diversification. BlackBerry is betting on multiple lines of income not only to stay afloat but to continue to grow. Not too bad for a company that was, not that long ago, betting on a single product.
Part of the diversification process, of course, is shifting the brand. The phone name was the brand name, so that has taken some doing. Instead of some elaborate rebranding campaign, BlackBerry just started doing other things, a little bit at a time. And, because they were doing those things well, the right people began to see them as much more than an overshadowed phone company. Now, BlackBerry is so much more, and, all signs point to even more shifts and growth on the horizon.
Ronn Torossian is a public relations executive