BlackBerry did not die in the device space; it evolved

I once blamed BlackBerry’s ‘misfortune’ in the smartphone market on its unimpressive marketing in Africa. “Some months ago, it would be very hard to enter a room of 10 without seeing at least four BlackBerry users. This is changing.  People are trading their BlackBerry phones for unbranded Android phones these days. I blame BlackBerry for this!” I wrote.

Ranting further about this, I lamented that BlackBerry’s marketing of its smartphones in Africa had been really poor. “Several months after BlackBerry released the Classic, many Africans had not heard about it. The company has never really seen real value on focusing on Africa, a continent of over 1 billion people.” However, BlackBerry’s Regional Director, Advanced Security Solutions – Advisory,  Nader Henein says the Canadian company had always focused on Africa, although, he admits that there is room for improvement.

In this interview with The Nerve Africa, Henein talks about BlackBerry’s commitment to sustaining the BlackBerry smartphone brand in the device market, while focusing on its strengths — strengths: state-of-the-art software and security solutions. He also speaks about the uptake of BlackBerry’s enterprise services in Africa.

Some analysts argued that one of BlackBerry’s biggest mistakes was ignoring Africa (in terms of activity and product visibility when launched). Do you agree? 

We can always do better, and I firmly believe we will. Africa has been a focus for our team and this has never wavered, in fact, we have spent more time travelling in Africa this past year more so than any other year to ensure that we cover all of Africa, not just the major hubs.

 BlackBerry has stopped producing its own phones. How committed is the company to the success of BlackBerry hardware, and what are the efforts the company is making to ensure the market success of BlackBerry phones?

We recently announced the discontinuation of all handset hardware development while we fully leverage third parties to develop hardware, distribute and support the BlackBerry handset brand as we focus on our strengths: state-of-the-art software and security solutions.

We have signed our first significant brand licensing agreement, which is a new joint venture called BB MerahPutih. BB MerahPutih, which is led by Indonesian telco, PT Tiphone Mobile, to source, distribute and promote handsets with our secure Android software and the BlackBerry brand in Indonesia while we will continue to evaluate all options for licensing our software to trusted partners around the world.

We remain committed to the smartphone – as the smart in the phone, there will continue to be BlackBerry branded devicesand we will continue to design, develop and manage the software running on BlackBerry devices to ensure that they continue to be the World’s Most Secure Android Smartphone.We believe this is the optimal model for bringing BlackBerry-branded devices to market with the security and user experience we are known for.

This is the evolution of BlackBerry in the device space, as the hardware piece becomes more and more commoditized, we have opted to focus on the device software, developing a ultra-secure, hardened Google Android platform without taking away from the user experience.    

 The new BlackBerry strategy puts software and security at the forefront, how relevant will this make BlackBerry to Africa?

Africa represents the quintessential emerging market, and with hyper-growth of a modern economy based largely on information technology, the need for security is critical as breaches would throw the entire momentum at risk. BlackBerry’s approach to security has and always will place the user at the heart of the system, ensuring that information is assured transparently without impacting productivity or growth. 

How receptive has Africa been to BlackBerry’s Enterprise solution?

We have found a very loyal following within Africa, earned through a continued vigilance in developing solid, scalable Enterprise products, the growth since our pivot towards software has been exceptionally well received.