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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 redmond@techtarget.com.

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Explore BlackBerry's purchase of Good Technology

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What would it take for you to switch to a BlackBerry smartphone?
I gave my iPhone 6 to my son and I bought the priv. I really like it. I like the whole package...the quality, feel, ascetics and the functionlity. It is about personal choice I guess.
It would take a lot. I feel BlackBerry is so far behind Apple and Samsung that I would need to be astonished to even consider moving. 

In agreement with Michael. It's not just Apple and Samsung though that they can't compare to. The whole market, mainly comprised of Android devices (strategically done of course), is full of truly competitive devices (LG, OPPO, OPO, Motorola, and dare I say even Sony is becoming more of a contender again).  There's plenty to choose from and Blackberry just isn't even on my radar anymore when I look at a new phone. 

I find blackberry hangs on to the physical keyboard too much - you can say it's what differentiates them. Sure, there's an argument for that. But I would argue their stubbornness to hold onto the keyboard has caused them to be left behind. Tell your customers what they want. I'm a millennial so there is some bias here, but there's plenty of people that thought they needed the physical keyboard and then they switch to a modern touch screen and they realize, "this is way better!"

Hey guys, thanks for reading. Honestly, I don't think BlackBerry phones are as bad as their marketshare suggests. I've used the Priv recently, and I think it's actually a pretty nice Android phone. BlackBerry has money, so it would makes sense for it to spend some on the marketing side. Seeing some BlackBerry Priv commercials around town or during primetime TV would go a long way. 
I liked the Blackberry phones. They were extremely durable, long battery life, and I thought BBM was a great feature. With that said, they had a lot of shortcomings. Their BES CALs were extremely expensive. When I was a BES administrator at a previous company, there were flaws with it. BES had an external SQL server which interacted with Exchange. At times, Microsoft would put out KB updates that would cause that relationship to break between the BES and Exchange. When that happened, end-users would not receive emails on their phones and we'd have to wait for RIM to come out with a patch. This was rare, but when it did happened chaos followed.

Then there were the data outages that plagued RIM. I recall they had a major outage one day that affected much of the US. I can remember my CIO walking out of a senior management meeting asking me if an ETA was given by RIM when the service would be back up.  I told him they did not have one. His response, “This is why we’re dropping Blackberry and going with the iPhone.” 

I’m now an Android user. For me to kick my Android to the curb and go back to Blackberry, they would have to completely re-invent themselves and come out with an amazing new OS with great apps that are on par with what Android and Apple offers their end-users. 

Well Blackberry really need to upgrade their OS. I feel their Hardware is quite cool and handy but the OS is something they really need to work on. As I speak, I am still using a BB but I am kinda skeptical to switch to an earlier version of BB cause it aint looking competitive in the market.
I suggest they should work really hard before I port.
I wept when I give up my Blackberry, but I'm not sure it's quite ready for me. Now I'm getting annoyed with Android's 8,556,946 versions and variations. And have no interest in the closed-box 1 or 2 version iPhone. Priv is pretty good, but I think I'll want to see how Priv2 improves on it.

Another interesting piece to this whole discussion is that everyone's waiting to see what blackberry will do with their next phone or they need to improve this for me to switch to it. Yet, it may already be too late for Blackberry's consumer electronics line. We can say, I want to see what they do with the next one, but if you're interested in BB and not supporting it now - there's decreasing likelihood it will still have anything to offer. This leads to really more of a business question though - how is BB's consumer product being driven. Which consumers? Who's their TM?

Perhaps another question for this discussion is where do you think Blackberry went wrong? People used to reminisce about the old blackberry and perhaps that's why Blackberry has carried their physical keyboard all this way - but no one really wants the old blackberry do they?

There's been a great deal of speculation about where BB went wrong ie. lost sight of their customer, slow turning and broken culture, lost sight of their Value Prop, held on too tightly for too long to their software, etc. In my opinion, I don't think they should even bother with consumer products - stick to enterprise and security offerings, and if they are to go consumer route - focus on emerging regions.

What I don't understand is why not combine the BBM and the use of phones together or perhaps I'm being too simplistic. The problem with Blackberry is the lack of a hook. Stick with that hook, market the heck out of it and build around it. Spreading too thin is not going to work. A part of that hook i the security aspect. Utilize the security on the mobile side of things for business use, in particular for the enterprise side. Think of use in a large manufacturing plant could really do well.