BlackBerry’s Project Ion May Be Its Swan Song for the Smartphone Market

Although BlackBerry may make a comeback in the future, 2014 is not the year for it.

Jun 9, 2014 at 12:30PM

Waterloo, Ontario-based mobile developer BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) has suffered in recent years as it went from the darling of business communications to a company desperate to define itself within the smartphone segment, having conceded market share to Apple's iPhone, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android, and to a lesser extent Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone devices.

Bleak financial results
BlackBerry's most recent results saw revenue drop 18% from $1.2 billion in Q4 2013 to $976 million in Q1 2014. The company's financial results paint a dire picture, with $2.7 billion in revenue recorded in Q1 2013 -- an astonishing 64% drop. Net loss for the first quarter of 2014 was $432 million, up from net income of $98 million at the same time in 2013. For the year ending in Q1 2014, BlackBerry reported over $5.8 billion in losses, up from a $646 million loss in Q1 2013.

One of the few saving graces on the company's balance sheet is its cash and investments balance of $2.7 billion, as of the end of Q1 2014, of which cash accounted for $1.58 billion, up from $1.55 billion in Q1 2013. Although BlackBerry is currently hemorrhaging market share, it still has a fair spring in its step, as its cash assets are vital to a turnaround, allowing it to fund new projects.

Android and Apple sideline BlackBerry in consumer segment
According to recent data from market intelligence firm IDC's report, Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, Google's Android system currently holds 80.2% of the consumer smartphone market, while Apple holds 14.8%. Both companies, however, are dropping market share to Microsoft's Windows Phone, forecast to grow from its current 3.5% to 6.4% by 2018. Microsoft is the only platform currently gaining market share, although at a very slow pace. It will require the tech giant to innovate to convince customers to make the jump from iOS and Android to Microsoft's relatively niche platform.

BlackBerry holds a mere 0.8%, with a prediction it will drop to just 0.3% by 2018. The numbers imply BlackBerry's days as a leader in the consumer phone market are numbered. Although BlackBerry will still compete within the segment, the company is refocusing its efforts on the enterprise, rather than the consumer, market, where it is currently unable to offer anything competitors cannot. The company's latest project announcement is a prime example of this.

The trick up BlackBerry's sleeve
Last week, BlackBerry announced a new initiative -- the ominous-sounding Project Ion -- that it hopes will capitalize on the emerging Internet of Things, or IoT. Project Ion aims to help companies accumulate and process data from a variety of everyday sources such as fridges, lights, cars, phones, televisions -- basically any electronics you can find at home or in a business -- and then use this data to give companies functional insight.

In continuation of the company's past penchant for focusing on business and enterprise, it will use its strength in business communications and information to create a platform for IoT data, something that hasn't yet been achieved in scale by other firms.

With its strong foothold in the business market, Project Ion could be something of a game-changer for BlackBerry. It won't make the firm any stronger in the competition against Apple, Microsoft, and Google in the consumer phone market, but it may mean the company can tap into and take control of the entire, and currently unrealized, enterprise IoT market.

However, with most electronic devices not currently communicating, let alone speaking the same digital languages as each other, it could take years for BlackBerry to see gains. Think of the entire infrastructure, business and consumer electronics, vehicles, and so much more that would need to be replaced or brought up to date for BlackBerry to make use of their data.

The company is also likely to be fending off stiff competition from Google, which is also exploring the possibilities of the IoT. Google's high-profile purchase of Nest for $3.2 billion earlier this year moved the company into consumer energy efficiency and the IoT. With the right acquisitions and R&D, Google could easily shift into the business market, putting that data to work in a manner similar to Project Ion.

Market reaction to Project Ion was low-key, with BlackBerry going from $7.24 to $7.31. The company saw better gains this week after CEO John Chen stated that he believes the company has an 80% chance of a turnaround; up from his previous prediction of 50%; BlackBerry's price went to $7.74 on the news.

The bottom line
For now, BlackBerry is sitting near $7.60 per share. It's going to be some time before the company is party to any real gains, but at least its price drop seems to have bottomed out. Although BlackBerry may make a comeback in the future, 2014 is not the year for it. Project Ion will take a long time to implement, and even then, Google may well take the lion's share of the market. It's a hold.

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Haris Qureshi has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Google (C shares) and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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