Struggling Smartphone Maker BlackBerry Goes up for Sale

BlackBerry, once the global leader in smartphone technology, has put itself up for sale after years of falling sales and failed revamps.

The announcement comes with BlackBerry marginalized in a smartphone market dominated by makers using the Google Android operating system and by Apple’s iPhone.Photo: Ian Shaw/Flickr

On Monday, the struggling phone maker announced it had formed a special committee to explore “strategic alternatives” for itself.

Once successful BlackBerry, which pioneered mobile email with its first smartphones and email pagers, said that the committee would to review its options, sparking a debate over whether Canada’s one-time crown jewel is more valuable as a whole or snapped up piece by piece by competitors or private investors.

A statement issued by BlackBerry said the board’s committee would seek ways “to enhance value and increase scale” to help deploy its products based on its new BlackBerry 10 platform, which was launched only seven months ago.

Unfortunately, some analysts said prospects look grim for the smartphone pioneer.

“It looks like we are approaching the end of the road for BlackBerry,” said technology analyst Jeff Kagan. “They are looking for the next alternative. Apparently they are simply not selling enough new devices.”

BlackBerry has been steadily losing subscribers and market share over the past few years. And in the second quarter of this year, just as it was rolling out three devices that take advantage of its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, the company seemed to be hit the hardest, reports the CNet.

Unable to match Apple’s iPhone for cool or the sheer range of devices from Samsung and others using Google’s Android mobile system, its market share has collapsed from close to 50% in the US in 2009 to less than 3%, according to figures released last week by the analyst IDC.

On the day the news broke, the Z10, BlackBerry’s latest, much-hyped device was being offered for $19.99 by US mobile retailer Wirefly. It was selling for $199 when it was launched earlier this year.

Jeff Kagan blames BlackBerry’s fall on a failure to create “a strong public relations and advertising image to support the brand” early on.

Nevertheless, BlackBerry president and chief executive Thorsten Heins was more optimistic in his outlook.

“We continue to see compelling long-term opportunities for BlackBerry 10, we have exceptional technology that customers are embracing, we have a strong balance sheet and we are pleased with the progress that has been made in our transition,” Heins said.

Still, the biggest problem that BlackBerry faces is that it’s very unlikely it will find a buyer for its handset hardware business.

Companies tipped as possible partners for BlackBerry have included Microsoft Corp and Inc, as well as Lenovo Group Ltd, where a senior executive said earlier this year the Chinese computer maker would consider a bid for BlackBerry to boost its own mobile business.

BlackBerry’s fate is likely to involve the Canadian government, which vets foreign takeovers of domestic companies. The government said it would not comment on speculation, but a spokesman for Industry Minister James Moore said the government wished BlackBerry well in its search for new options.

“There is little question that the federal government would prefer a made-in-Canada approach,” said Subrata Bhattacharjee, co-chair of the national trade and competition group at the Heenan Blaikie law firm in Toronto.

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