When BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) switched its name last year from Research in Motion and subsequently dodged a buyout, investors were left wondering about the future of the company that had fallen so far in the past decade. Now potential answers are emerging. Despite a stock price around $7, which is about 48% lower this quarter compared to last year, the new BlackBerry remains focused on its paradigm shift. Now, reports are starting to back up that optimism.
True, the company has reported fiscal fourth-quarter losses of $423 million in March. This was not as bad as expected, however, and CEO John Chen has forecasted a financial turnaround for fiscal 2016. What will fuel this hopeful return? If recent moves are any indication, BlackBerry is set to enter new high-growth sectors far beyond traditional handsets.
New mobile health devices with NantHealth
On April 15, BlackBerry announced a partnership with health tech company NantHealth, signaling the company's foray into the busy world of health software. The venture aims to create a smartphone designed from the ground up for the health care industry, containing features that let users view 3D images and CT scans more easily. It will be due out in either late 2014 or early 2015.
BlackBerry gained 1.4% to $7.24 on its acquisition of a minority stake in the health start-up. Currently, NantHealth offers services in use in 250 different hospitals. If BlackBerry continues on this enterprise path, it will be interesting to see if the venture's market share increases on the strength of BlackBerry's brand, which is generally more accepted (for now) in commercial and government agencies than in the private sector.
Dashboard triumph with Ford deal
BlackBerry also received some good news back in February, this time from the auto industry. Ford, after spending years working with Microsoft's(NASDAQ:MSFT) Sync system, announced that it was dropping Sync and moving to BlackBerry's QNX operating system for its cars. Sync had been designed to equip dashboards with voice commands and integration with Windows phones, but after multiple updates it seems that Ford was still concerned with customer opinion and problems with system crashes.
The switch to BlackBerry's QNX system represented both a win for the struggling company and an entry into the auto tech market. Microsoft has since responded with a new "Windows in the Car" product demo, but Ford appears set on its BlackBerry decision, at least for its upcoming models. The dashboard tech world has grown increasingly competitive with entrants like Apple and Google also competing over automaker contracts, but if BlackBerry can maintain the Ford partnership then it may be able to hold a position in this market in the years to come.
BBM, now with stickers
BBM, BlackBerry's instant messaging service, has proven a bright spot for the company in recent years. The mobile service has 80 million users and around 500,000 chat rooms, and recently moved to Android and Apple phones in 2013. BlackBerry has also indicated plans to bring the messaging service to desktop computers, allowing business users to start a conversation on their desktop and move the chat to a phone without fuss.
The primary question with BBM is how BlackBerry can successfully monetize it. The answer appears to be a push further into the social world. BBM already had some social features, such as the creation of forum-like Channels, but now BlackBerry is adding emoticon-like "stickers" or original icons that can be plugged directly into conversations. The best sticker packs cost about $2, and early signs point to successful revenue generation in global markets like South Africa and Indonesia.
The migration to specialized professional hardware for the tech world, software services in emerging industries like dashboard tech, and social features could make a big difference for BlackBerry in the years to come. Yes, the company still struggles with losses, but the ingredients of a turnaround are in the mix.
Editor's Note: This article has been amended to correct BlackBerry's CEO's name.