I have a friend who gets news alerts whenever something about BlackBerry, the company formerly known as Research In Motion (RIM), hits the financial wires. Not because he owns the stock, or works in the tech sector, but because BlackBerry is, by far, the most entertaining company to watch lately, in the same way that some people watch Nascar for the crashes.
The dramatic irony in this tragicomedy is that all of us knew, back when the iPhone launched in 2007, that BlackBerry would have to craft something new, find a unique angle on the smartphone market, while still keeping up a strong relationship with their corporate and government mainstay customers. Six years later, they have kinda-sorta done that, but with remarkably quiet impact.
Here's the latest: BlackBerry sold just 2.7 million phones running BlackBerry 10 last quarter, according to their quarterly results for March through May (PDF link there). "Just" because, for reference, 2.7 million is about half of what Nokia's Lumia phone sold in the same period. The Lumia is not the phone that all your friends have.
It's not as if willing customers are whole-heartedly rejecting BlackBerry 10. It's more that only 40 percent of the devices shipping out from Waterloo, Ont. are actually running the OS. Also: most people don't know that BlackBerry 10 exists. BlackBerry isn't willing to burn their boats to get people into and excited about BlackBerry 10. Ah, well, at least they have their keyboard-addicted die-hard fans to rely on, right?
Fans who will not get BlackBerry 10 on their PlayBooks, the tablet that sold about 100,000 units roughly two years ago. You might guess that more PlayBooks have been stolen from trucks than sold. Even if most of BlackBerry's own devotees skipped the PlayBook, they are now aligned with a company that only gently pushes out drips of new technology, and which turns back on pledges it made about upgrades just six months ago.
So there you have it: BlackBerry, the phone that was once the very epitome of "what the tech set are carrying around," now tells the world that they lost money this quarter, will lose money the next few quarters, and that their most innovative new thing can barely avoid being lapped by a third-place player in the smartphone game. Happy Friday.