Who wants some BlackBerry? Let the speculation begin

With BlackBerry now officially for sale, the speculation has begun about who might buy the company.

The early consensus? While there are lots of potential suitors, no one company or entity makes an obvious or ideal match. And there’s at least some sense that, with demand for BlackBerry’s products already slack, would-be buyers may prefer to wait to see if the company’s valuation drops further.

It’s a “struggle to see who might buy BlackBerry given the ongoing turnaround challenges,” Nomura analyst Stuart Jeffrey told Forbes.

Still, it’s always fun to play the speculation game, and several analysts and commentators jumped in. The list they compiled might be thought of as one of the usual suspects. Included among the potential suitors: Microsoft, Samsung, Amazon, Cisco and IBM.

Each makes sense in its own way. Microsoft could use BlackBerry’s still significant presence in corporate email services to shore up its own disappointing mobile effort. Samsung could use BlackBerry’s software to further distinguish its phones from other Android phone maker. And it could potentially use the company’s patents to defend itself from the likes of Apple.

Amazon, meanwhile, has long been rumored to be working on a smartphone to complement its Kindle tablet lineup. And Cisco and IBM, which provide services to enterprises, could see value in adding BlackBerry’s servers to their offerings.

But several observers think it much more likely that BlackBerry will be acquired on the cheap by a private equity firm and eventually sold off in pieces than swallowed whole by a public company.

Yet there are doubts about even that scenario,which assume that the company’s parts are worth more than its whole. As the New York Times pointed out, BlackBerry’s enterprise business is a “highly centralized network … based on aging technology (that) has led to widespread and embarrassing service failures,” all of which make it “a potential turn-off for would-be buyers.”

Likewise, the true value of BlackBerry’s patent portfolio is anyone’s guess. The patent frenzy — marked by the acquisition of Nortel’s patents by a consortium including BlackBerry and Apple for $4.5 billion and Google’s $12.5 billion purchase of Motoroloa — seems to have subsided. And, as the Times again notes, many of BlackBerry’s patents are likely nearing the end of their useful life.

The one piece of BlackBerry’s business that could draw interest is QNX Software Systems. QNX makes a highly reliable operating system that is used to undergird everything from car entertainment systems to nuclear power plants. BlackBerry bought the company in 2010 and used QNX as the basis for the BlackBerry 10 operating system that underlies its new phones. While sales of those phones have been disappointing, QNX still has a solid crop of outside customers, as the Times notes.

The problem is that BlackBerry doesn’t disclose QNX’s financials, so it’s hard to know what the business might be worth.

What makes this turn of events so unfortunate is that it was so predictable.

While the company was touting BlackBerry 10 last year as the start of its revival, I argued the new software was coming too late the market and was too insignificant an advance to make a difference in the smartphone market.  Making matters worse, BlackBerry did little to ease the way for owners of its older phones to upgrade to the new ones; the new software was incompatible with the old and wouldn’t run older apps. That, I argued, was a fatal mistake.

Slumping market share, a depressed stock price — and now a for-sale sign on BlackBerry’s door indicate I was right.



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