BlackBerry Ltd.: Can the Priv Overcome a Battered Brand?

BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) is hoping that people are still willing to be seen with one of its phones.

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There’s no denying that BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) is running out of time to save its declining handset business.

Its latest attempt is the BlackBerry Priv, which uses the Android operating system, and also features a sliding keyboard. So, will the Priv be BlackBerry’s saving grace? Or will the phone be yet another flop from BlackBerry?

Reasons for optimism

BlackBerry has released three new handsets under the leadership of new CEO John Chen: the Classic, the Passport, and the Leap. All of them have fallen short of sales expectations.

But there’s a compelling explanation for this. Because BlackBerry’s handset business has been in decline, application developers have shunned the company’s operating system. As a result, BlackBerry phones simply don’t feature as many apps as handsets powered by iOS or Android.

In response, BlackBerry has allowed Android applications to run on its phones. But this was only a partial solution, especially for the Passport, whose screen dimensions differ markedly from Android-powered handsets.

The Priv is a better solution, since it was specifically designed for Android. And because the phone features a slide-out keyboard, it could be exactly what BlackBerry’s target market is looking for.

Don’t get your hopes too high

There’s another likely reason why BlackBerry’s phones are not selling: the company’s brand is completely shot.

It’s hard to overestimate the power of a brand. It’s why a t-shirt more than doubles in value when there’s a swoosh on it. It’s why Rolex is able to charge so much for its watches. Put simply, people want to be associated with winning franchises, for lack of a better term. This is not good news for BlackBerry at all.

In fact, there’s a strong chance most people simply don’t want to be seen with a BlackBerry phone. After all, there’s a risk of being seen as stuck in the past. The name “Priv” has also gotten some negative reviews, and rightly so in my opinion.

Making matters worse, the sliding keyboard may not be the asset it once was. Because of BlackBerry’s decline, smartphone users have gotten to the touchscreen keyboards featured in iOS and Android devices. Those touchscreen keyboards are also far better than they were in BlackBerry’s heyday.

The verdict

Let’s face the facts: it doesn’t really matter how great the specs are on the BlackBerry Priv. The phone is facing a gigantic uphill battle. And so is BlackBerry itself. The company is still a long way from turning itself around, and until there are some more hopeful signs, you should avoid the stock.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

Fool contributor Benjamin Sinclair has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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