This week, BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) announced perhaps the boldest holiday deal in smartphones. Starting on Nov. 22, the company offered $100 off the purchase of a black BlackBerry Passport and $275 off MSRP in the U.S. ($250 Canadian) for the Z30 handset through ShopBlackBerry.com. In addition, the company partnered with eBay's PayPal Credit to purchase unlocked devices in six monthly installments without interest..
However, the boldest move by the Canadian handset maker was to offer "up to $400 back on their iPhone and an additional $150 from BlackBerry" for prospective Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone switchers to convert to BlackBerry's Passport as a part of their BlackBerry Passport Trade-Up program. Can this reverse BlackBerry's hardware slide and sagging North American performance?
CEO John Chen seems convinced; so do investors
Last year, the company appeared to be struggling to convince anybody it was poised for a turnaround after years of layoffs and failed strategy. After numerous delays for its BlackBerry 10 operating system, the company released the OS and supporting handsets in early 2013. Unfortunately, the products didn't put a large dent in the smartphone markets, and after a failed acquisition, the company fired former CEO Thorsten Heins and hired John Chen.
At first, Chen called BlackBerry a "sick patient" and later handicapped its turnaround chances at "50-50." However, Chen has been slowly turning around investor perception. Over the past year, BlackBerry has outperformed the S&P 500 index by a significant amount:
And while investors appear to be more bullish on the company's prospects than they were a year ago, the financials aren't as favorable. Over the past six quarters, the company has only reported a net profit once and has seen its revenue drop every quarter. You can bet Chen is focused on reversing that trend.
Chen has turnaround experience, wants to focus on the enterprise
Perhaps the reason Chen won the job at BlackBerry was his work at Sybase. Under his leadership, the company reported 55 straight quarters with a profit and was eventually sold to SAP for $5.8 billion. The $65-per-share offer was 13 times the value per share of the company when Chen took over nearly 13 years prior. Chen appears to be focusing on the enterprise -- a term denoting corporate and government users. Considering a recent Good Technology Mobility Index survey found 69% of all enterprise net activations in the July-September quarter were Apple's iOS, you can see why BlackBerry is focusing on Apple's iPhone.
Apple, not one to rest on its laurels, is also looking to build upon its momentum in enterprise. The company announced earlier this year that it will partner with IBM to develop new business-related services and apps. In addition, the company updated its enterprise software to make the experience more user friendly. And while BlackBerry still has the edge in security, boasting a fortified QNX-based operating system, Apple is competing by its commercial success and user choice. And overall, that appears to be a winning hand at this moment.
That said, this is an aggressive deal for BlackBerry. Now, will this singlehandedly change the company's fortunes? No. However, both fans and investors alike should appreciate John Chen's bold action to reverse the company's fortunes. It will be interesting to see whether other handset manufacturers turn to aggressive discounting to move units during the holiday season.