Hoping for quick sale, BlackBerry could struggle to find takers

BlackBerry, it seems, wants to find a buyer ASAP. The big question, though, is whether it will find any takers.

The struggling smartphone announced last month that is was exploring “strategic alternatives,” which is typically just another way of saying a company is putting itself up for sale. Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the company hopes to conclude that sales process by November, in what would be a fairly rushed timetable. The Canadian company has already made a list of potential bidders and hopes to begin soliciting bids soon, according to the Journal.

But the company, which has seen its market share and stock price plunge in recent years, may struggle to find bidders.

Already, one potential buyer, China’s Huawei, has said it’s not interested in making any acquisitions of BlackBerry or anyone else.

Another potential buyer, Samsung, has little obvious need for BlackBerry. It’s the dominant maker of phones running the Android operating system. And it’s already committed to developing another smartphone platform called Tizen.

For many analysts, Microsoft seemed to be the most logical fit for BlackBerry. But Microsoft announced earlier this week that it plans to acquire Nokia, another down-on-its-luck smartphone maker.

While the Redmond giant is still reportedly keeping an eye on BlackBerry even after its engagement with Nokia, many think it unlikely to buy and attempt to integrate two smartphone makers with incompatible technology.

And, according to the New York Times, Microsoft’s Nokia deal may scare off other companies who might have been interested in buying BlackBerry intact and trying to make a go of it in the phone business. Microsoft is expected to tap into its vast cash horde to try to prop up Nokia and its Windows Phone business. Few companies would be able to match the kind of investment that Microsoft can make — or even want to try.

Which may leave BlackBerry in the position of having to sell itself off in pieces. According to several reports, there’s little interest in the company’s handset business. BlackBerry had pinned its hopes for a revival on phones running an all-new operating system that launched earlier this year. But consumers have have largely ignored those new phones in favor of devices running Google’s Android.

BlackBerry does have some assets that other players in the market may find valuable. It runs the popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service. It has an extensive patent portfolio. Its enterprise software and servers are still widely used. And it owns QNX, whose real-time operating system not only underlies the new BlackBerry operating system, but is used in everything from nuclear power plants to car entertainment systems.

But BBM doesn’t make make any revenue, so it’s hard to value. The patent buying frenzy — which drove the sale of Nortel’s patents and Google’s acquisition of Motorola — appears to have passed, potentially deflating the value of BlackBerry’s own portfolio. It’s enterprise servers are based on older technology that works best with BlackBerry’s own devices. And it’s unclear how much QNX is actually worth, because BlackBerry doesn’t break out its financial results.

So, it’s anyone’s guess who will end up with what pieces of BlackBerry. But if the Journal’s right, we should know soon enough.

Photo, of BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, courtesy of BlackBerry.


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