BlackBerry, once the king of smartphones, will stop making devices

BlackBerry, the Canadian firm that brought smartphones to the masses, announced it was shutting down its hardware division.

“We are focusing on software development, including security and applications,” John Chen, its CEO, said in a press release. “The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners.”

The move was a long time in the making. Today, the company controls less than 1 percent of the smartphone market, a steep decline from 2009 when it had 20 percent, just after Nokia, according to Gartner.

In the 2000s, BlackBerry made popular the idea of sending and receiving emails on the run. It cultivated its image as prioritizing security and became popular with Fortune 500 firms, in particular those in the banking and government sectors. The devices were so compelling that people joked about suffering from “Crackberry addiction.”

President Barack Obama used one, as did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But with the advent of the iPhone in 2007 and Android devices soon after, BlackBerry struggled to expand its customer base to consumers.

Its corporate market began to erode when companies started to allow employees to bring their own devices — and many chose iPhones or smartphones running on Google’s Android operating system.

Over the summer, the U.S. Senate announced it would no longer issue the devices to Senate staff, as USA Today reported.

BlackBerry went through a series of chief executives before Chen, the former CEO of Sybase, joined in 2013.

He has focused on software and security but also continued to roll out devices aimed at consumers without gaining traction. Recently the company introduced, the Dtek50, its second version of an Android phone but one manufactured by Alcatel OneTouch.

Missing was the BlackBerry physical keyboard, which had been its signature.

Two years ago, Chen told the Mercury News:

Sometimes you don’t know when you should quit trying something. You don’t want to quit too early and you don’t want to be too stupid so you are hitting your head against the wall and it doesn’t yield.

Apparently, Chen found the right moment. The question for BlackBerry is whether it continues as a standalone company or is folded into another firm to become another icon that had its day.

Photo: Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, checks her BlackBerry. (Kevin Lamarque/AP)


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  • CDGingrich

    Chen has been a huge disappointment. Sent from my last Blackberry.