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Blackberry CEO struggles to show off flagship phone

Was John Chen's awkward demonstration symbolic of Blackberry's wider problems?

Blackberry’s CEO John Chen gave a demo of the firm’s new soon-to-be launched flagship phone today, and it couldn’t have gone much worse.

In a TV interview with Business News Network, the CEO reminded the world why preparation is a vital component of a successful technology demonstrations. Showing off the Android operating system, Chen attempts to open the Chrome app, which initially fails to load. After Chrome finally opens, he then realizes that he must sign in to a Google account in order to continue.

Chen then quickly closes the app and opts to talk about the phone, rather than attempt to further demonstrate its capabilities. Already flustered, he lets the viewer know that the Priv includes “the latest specs, literally the latest Qualcomm specs, and the cameras and other good stuff.”

The bewildering demonstration came days after the former king of the smartphone market reported weaker-than-expected quarterly results.

Revenue fell 46.5% to $490m, well below the analysts' expectations of $610.6m.

Net income was $51m, down from $68m in the prior quarter, but still better than a loss of $207 million in the year-ago period.

Blackberry’s demise has been well documented. Once the largest smartphone maker in the world, a pioneer of mobile email and darling of the enterprise, Blackberry’s world was flipped upside down by consumer devices – namely the iPhone.

The Ontario-based company dabbled in the consumer market, which only made things worse. One of the reasons that Blackberry devices failed to gain traction was the lack of apps available for its in house operating system. Blackberry tried every trick in the book; it just couldn’t get developers excited about its OS.

This led Blackberry to refocus its efforts and last Friday, Chen confirmed the extensive rumours that the new Priv phone would be based on Google’s Android operating system.

The announcement marks one of the clearest shifts in Blackberry’s strategy in recent memory. Rather than own the whole ecosystem, like Apple, the firm has opted to use the Android OS and instead focus on what it does best – enterprise security and encryption.

“The key takeaway here is really that we continue to lead in mobile security and now we are bringing the BlackBerry security know-how into the Android ecosystems,” Chen said on a conference call with analysts. “As a result, we believe we can address a larger and growing segment of the enterprise space and we believe we could be a leader in this space.”

Despite being the number one mobile operating system in the world, very few players have managed to stamp their own identity on the Android platform and reap the rewards, Samsung being the exception to the rule. Blackberry’s new strategy is a Hail Mary.

The Priv, which stands for ‘privacy’ or ‘privilege’ (Chen doesn’t seem quite sure which), is due to be released later in the calendar year.

In a world of irritatingly hyper-polished, cheesy demos, Chen’s blundering interview was, in many ways, refreshingly real. It reminded us that technology doesn’t always do what the vendor writes on the tin.

Unfortunately, Chen’s interview was also a reflection of the company’s strategy and symbolic of the deeper problems that it faces. 

Despite its best efforts, Blackberry seems to be desperately swiping the screen, pressing random buttons and hoping that something will eventually work.





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