One point of agreement among myriad analysts and observers covering BlackBerry Ltd.’s slow decline is that it has been – and will be – very difficult for the company to find an interested buyer.
Over the years, names such as Microsoft Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. have appeared in countless acquisition rumours, none of which ever proved credible.
Nonetheless, a number of big-name players in the tech industry have both the means to buy BlackBerry and a lot to gain from the company’s assets. But so far, it seems, the downside of buying BlackBerry outweighs the upside.
Pros:In many workplaces, the employees who carry BlackBerrys in their pockets also have Windows running on their desktops. As such, buying BlackBerry could make sense for Microsoft if it is looking to gain instant credibility in the enterprise sector and possibly make use of BlackBerry’s secure operating system. “I think Microsoft … might make sense if it were trying to go after corporate security-focused IT folks,” said Neil Bearse, associate director of marketing at the Queen’s School of Business.
Cons: Microsoft appears much more focused on cracking the consumer market. It also already has a major partner in Nokia, with whom the company is aggressively pushing the new Windows Phone devices. “Nokia is sitting there – If Microsoft is going to make a play for a device manufacturer, Nokia would make more sense,” Mr. Bearse said.
Pros: The acquisition of BlackBerry Messenger, as CIBC analyst Todd Coupland points out, could appeal to Facebook as a social media tool. Even as Facebook’s user base has grown, the company has been criticized by investors for failing to make money off its mobile users. BlackBerry’s user base and its wildly popular messaging software could immediately boost Facebook’s mobile presence and revenue.
Cons: After much failure, Facebook appears to be turning its fortunes around in the mobile space. The company already tried wading into the device market when it teamed up with HTC to develop the so-called “Facebook Phone” – a customized Google Android device. The phone did not sell particularly well, which may give Facebook executives reason to try again, or to simply avoid the device business entirely.
Pros: A long-shot at best, Dell makes some sense as a BlackBerry partner. Both companies have a mutual acquaintance in the form of Silver Lake, the equity firm involved in Dell’s attempt to become a private company, and with whom BlackBerry executives have reportedly been talking. What BlackBerry is to mobile – the ubiquitous device of choice in many enterprises – Dell is to desktops. As such, a combined entity could be very appealing to corporate customers.
Cons: Neither company is in a state to be swinging for the fences. And although both companies have a strong presence in enterprise, they have struggled to attract consumers to their brands. “An interesting play would give Dell the mobile capability it has tried repeatedly to create, and failed,” independent technology analyst Carmi Levy said. “But both companies are in need of help, so it’s not a case of a negative times a negative equals a positive.”
Pros: Even though Samsung is perhaps the best-positioned manufacturer in the mobile market – competing directly with Apple for market dominance – the company has most of its eggs in one basket. Samsung’s best-selling phones all run on the Android operating system from Google. By purchasing BlackBerry, Samsung would not only hedge its bets with a second major operating system, but it would instantly gain a foothold in the enterprise mobile market, where it has had less success.
Cons: Samsung is already experimenting with the Microsoft Windows Phone platform. The company also has the scale and technology to develop its own operating system solutions in-house, reducing the need for BlackBerry’s technology. “They can just [create a custom version of] Android like Amazon did,” BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said. “They also have their own operating system,” he added, referring to Samsung’s Bada software.
Pros: Floated as a possible suitor by several analysts, Amazon.com could make for a good fit primarily for one reason: the company doesn’t mind losing money. Indeed, Amazon doesn’t see much direct benefit from selling its tablet, the Kindle Fire. Instead, it sells the device at the lowest price possible in order to lure users into its wider retail ecosystem. The next obvious step in that strategy would be to do the same in the smartphone arena, perhaps with a re-branded BlackBerry device.
Cons: The Kindle Fire runs on a modified version of the Android operating system. Integrating BlackBerry’s technology with that software will likely prove time-consuming and expensive. As such, Amazon may find it less cumbersome to simply build another Android-powered phone that syncs easily with the Fire tablet.
Pros: Perhaps the two companies most likely to be interested in BlackBerry are in China. Huawei, which has seen strong gains at the low-end of the smartphone market, has indicated an interest. Lenovo Group has experience buying up parts of struggling technology companies, as it completed a major purchase of IBM’s PC division. “They’re huge Chinese organizations with aggressive expansion plans,” Mr. Levy said. “The challenge is that doing it on their own is difficult – it’s much easier to acquire it.”
Cons: The prospect of BlackBerry – which designs the mobile devices carried by some of the most sensitive Canadian government institutions – being bought by a Chinese firm would likely see stiff resistance from Ottawa. “From a business perspective, it’s a slam dunk,” Mr. Levy said. “From a geopolitical perspective, it’s not happening.”
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