This Is BlackBerry's Best Shot for a Turnaround

With time running out, BlackBerry should consider pursuing shifting its handset efforts to an Android-based lineup of products.

Jun 16, 2014 at 10:05AM


BlackBerry's Z10. Source: BlackBerry 

In the war for mobile app developers' attention, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android have more or less won. While there are numerous competing mobile operating systems -- from the more well-known Windows Phone from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and BlackBerry 10 from BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) to more obscure ones like FireFox OS and Tizen -- these really don't seem likely to succeed. The world neither needs nor wants another mobile OS to worry about, and it is for this reason that BlackBerry -- whose phone operations are struggling mightily -- should consider doing an Android phone.

Here's the great thing about Android -- it's customizable
While compatible with the same applications and sporting similar Google-provided services, different vendors customize many aspects of the user experience. The hard-core OS part is taken care of by Google, allowing the handset vendors to differentiate with UIs, services, and additional applications on top of that -- all with Android app compatibility.

Lg G

LG's G3. Source: LG

Now, some will argue that BlackBerry's BB10 OS is more secure than Android given BlackBerry's rich heritage in that department. That's fair, but the reality of the market today is that whatever BlackBerry's advantages are in the security department are far outweighed by the large app ecosystems and user familiarity with both Android and iOS.

Further, what's to stop BlackBerry from including in a robust set of mobile security software on its devices in a similar fashion to Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) with its Knox suite or LG and its partnership with McAfee to supply security software for LG's flagship G3 phone? 

The app ecosystem -- it's all about the developers
Android is, of course, a name recognized by many smartphone buyers today, but the real value in Android isn't so much that it does anything special (a noted feature is its customizability, in stark contrast to the "walled garden" nature of Apple's iOS), but that the world's software development dollars have rallied behind it.

Google Play Apps

Google's app ecosystem is huge. Source: Google

Companies like Microsoft and Samsung can afford to push operating systems such as Windows Phone and Tizen, respectively, because these companies are wildly successful and can afford to take as many swings as they'd like without any real worry about their core businesses. But BlackBerry? A company that would literally be in its death throes were it not for the relatively big pile of cash on its balance sheet? No way.

Ditch BlackBerry 10, go Android
BlackBerry's best bet -- if it wants to stay in the handset business -- would be to ditch BlackBerry 10 (which is based on the relatively popular QNX found in industrial and automotive applications) and do a line of smartphones based on a customized version of Android.

Such a move would allow BlackBerry to shift core operating system personnel to projects with higher return potential (security software, modifications to Android's UI) or to downsize its R&D staff in order to allow the company to keep fighting the good fight.

Foolish bottom line
BlackBerry is not in any imminent danger of, say, bankruptcy -- it's still got about $900 million in net cash and the losses seem to be on the decline (the company is expected to lose only $0.58/share in the fiscal year ending in February 2016, much less than the $0.94/share loss the company incurred in the prior fiscal year).

That said, the clock is ticking and the company needs to return to revenue growth sooner rather than later, or ultimately risk being a company whose stock slowly trends to $0. A line of Android-based phones could do much better than the BlackBerry 10 devices seem to be doing today, and at this point just better performance could drive the share price up rather materially from current levels. 

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Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, 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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