The Bait, Hook and Switch


At the beginning of Mobile World Congress (MWC) John Chen and BlackBerry made an announcement which somewhat shocked the BlackBerry community: they quietly announced that some of the coveted native BlackBerry applications are coming to the major platforms. Known as BlackBerry Suites, the apps are broken into three different segments: Productivity, Communication and Security. However, this should not have come as a surprise to many of us. Why? Well let’s go back to just a few months ago in January when John Chen wrote the open letter stating that apps should be included in the net neutrality debate. The letter took a lot of criticism in the technology world as some saw it that John Chen was begging the governments to force app developers to develop for BlackBerry. However, keep in mind if you are going to make such a statement you need to back it up. One thing which I have learned about John Chen since taking over as CEO is that he is a man of action. He has cut costs, stopped the bleeding, brought the Classic - and it appears to be a successful plan so far. If John Chen says BlackBerry will do something, then I now have full confidence that it will happen. In this letter was the subtle hint that BlackBerry was moving in this cross-platform direction. It would be hypocritical for John Chen to say that all other platforms should make their apps cross-platform while BlackBerry does not make their core apps for anyone else. I personally don’t take John as the hypocritical type.


So how will the BlackBerry Suites work? There are still a lot of details left to come out on this topic, but I do have my speculations. No doubt in my mind that they will not be free. After all, in the letter John said available but he didn’t say FREE. So whether it's via a BES subscription or an app world purchase is yet to be seen. However, I am fairly confident that the pricing will be monthly based. Just look at the monetization plan of BBM as an indicator. BBM Protect, BBM meetings and now Vanity Pins are all monthly subscriptions. It appears BlackBerry is moving in that direction for in-app / app purchases. Why cross-platform? It’s fairly simple actually, people are not moving to BlackBerry 10 like the company hoped. As the BIS revenues become non-existent the company needs to find a way to replace it. This is obviously part of that plan. Therefore, if people won’t come to BlackBerry, then BlackBerry is going to come to them. 


A lot of people have speculated that with this announcement; BlackBerry will be shutting down their hardware division. I for one do not think that's true at all. Ultimately, I believe that this is all part of John Chen’s master plan to increase device sales. Confused? Remember what John Chen stated following this announcement I intend to continue to build a hardware business - and John Chen is a man of action. But how do you increase sales? Think about the average person who has left BlackBerry. They got fed up with OS5/6/7 due to a wide range of issues and now have that stigma engrained into their memory. “Try a BlackBerry again? You have to be joking!” - a common statement I personally get. People do not want to try a device which they have had prior negative experience with, and waste money on something which they expect not to like. So, by bringing all of the BlackBerry apps cross-platform, he is allowing these people to try what the new BlackBerry is all about without the risk. “Spend $4.99 for a month of Productivity Suite and not like it? Oh well, I’ll just drink one less Starbucks coffee.”

But what happens when the person likes it, and then loves it? Next they get tired of the monthly fees, and wonder what these apps are like on an actual BlackBerry device. Now this is how the BlackBerry Suites can bring the people back. Make them annoyed of the monthly fees for the apps that they “can no longer live without” (sound familiar?) and they may just consider coming back.

In the end, John Chen plans on getting the cash flow in, if not through devices, then through cross-platform services. I had one person tell me that now there is no reason to stick with BlackBerry if most of the apps are available cross-platform. Ultimately, that is true but at the same time, millions of people have already found their reasons for leaving so what difference does it make? What John Chen is doing is giving people the no-risk option of tasting what BlackBerry is all about with some hope that they come over. If not then they are generating revenue which is almost as good. I’m sure some may think it's crazy - but in the end, I believe that we will see an increase in device sales long-term. How large? Who knows, but if it's better than what the market share is today then it's an improvement and not the death of the beloved BlackBerry at my side.