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BBM Meetings dropped, BlackBerry phones could be next

BlackBerry plans to discontinue BBM Meetings just one year after its launch, which leads experts to speculate how much longer BlackBerry phones will last.

BlackBerry will drop its business collaboration service, BBM Meetings, just one year after its launch, as it continues to transition the business, and focus on its core products and services.

The end-of-life date for BBM Meetings is Feb. 10, 2016, BlackBerry said in a blog post, but did not give a reason.

Industry experts said BlackBerry quickly found it could not compete with the likes of Cisco WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting, Skype for Business and the many other mobile-conferencing platforms. Citrix said last month that it plans to spin off its entire GoTo portfolio into a separate company.

"It shows where [BlackBerry] is going, and that they're really challenged right now," said Jack Narcotta, industry analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., based in Hampton, N.H. "It's in maintenance mode. It's trimming the noncore assets out of their value proposition and strategy."

BBM Meetings rolled out in November of last year. BlackBerry believed it would draw customers in search of a less expensive alternative to other business-focused mobile-conferencing tools. Additionally, the platform tied in with BlackBerry technologies, such as its security features, and it was easier to set up on BlackBerry devices.

"BBM as an instant messaging client has been very successful, and I think [BlackBerry] wanted to add to that," said Doug Grosfield, president and CEO of Five Nines IT Solutions, an IT consultancy based in Kitchener, Ont. "There's tons of competition out there, and I think rather than chase products like they've done in the past, they decided to move on."

BlackBerry has offered a 10% discount to BBM Meetings customers who switch to its partner Zoom Communications' mobile-conference platform offering by the end of December.

The company's decision to ax the product after just one year illustrates how unsuccessful the product may have been, and what direction the company is headed, Narcotta said.

"When it comes to some of these niche offerings, it just goes to show you that it's all about scale," he said.

BlackBerry EMM in focus, phones in question

After spending $425 million to acquire Good Technology in early September, and its acquisition of WatchDox in April, enterprise mobility management (EMM) and document management are now the focal points of BlackBerry's business.

The Good Technology acquisition was a good move, as BlackBerry was able to buy the EMM vendor at a great value, while also bringing more customers and new technology that it might not have had in order to reinforce its business, said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates LLC in Northborough, Mass.

While this is the direction the company is going, discontinuing BBM Meetings may be a sign that other segments of BlackBerry are on notice. 

"Management at BlackBerry is looking at everything," Gold said. "Everything is on the table. If you aren't strategic long term, you're going to get cut, and I think you'll see more of it."

As to which business is next to go, analysts are placing their bets on phones. BlackBerry was once a top player in the handset space, but hasn't been able to keep up with the likes of Apple and Google with the app ecosystem of its mobile operating system (OS), causing its hardware to fall behind. While BlackBerry still has a niche user base in financial and government sectors that values the security capabilities the company brings, the mobile-handsets business has struggled to turn a profit.

"Phones [are] the one part of their business that I'm just really surprised it's still there," Narcotta said. "Cutting BBM Meetings may open the door to them trimming other products and services, as this might be the first shoe to drop."

If they can't make a profit on the phone business, it's gone.
Jack Goldfounder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates LLC

Since CEO John Chen took the helm of the company in November 2013, BlackBerry has launched three smartphones. The first two came last year in the Passport and Edge -- both running on BlackBerry's BES 10 OS. In its most recent earnings report, BlackBerry said it has recognized hardware revenue on over 800,000 smartphones, garnering $201 million in revenue -- down roughly 52% from $418 million in the year-ago quarter.

"If they can't make a profit on the phone business, it's gone," Gold said.

Just last month, BlackBerry's first Android phone, Priv, hit stores, and expected to draw users who wanted the slide-out physical keyboard and security capabilities that BlackBerry brings, in addition to the large app ecosystem of Android.

Many analysts said at the time of its launch that this might be the last shot for BlackBerry's phone business to stay intact. The success of the Priv remains to be seen. The company has scheduled its fiscal year third-quarter earnings call for Dec. 18.

Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's End User Computer Media Group. Contact him at [email protected].

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