Will the Priv Be Enough to Turn BlackBerry Ltd. Around?

There’s plenty of excitement around BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) and its new Android-powered smartphone. But will it really make a big difference?

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The long and painful demise of BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) has been well documented.

As a shareholder, I wanted to support the company, so a few months ago I decided to buy one of its phones. A couple of weeks later, I took advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee and sent it back.

There are several reasons why I didn’t like the Passport. The battery life wasn’t as good as advertised. I found it to be a little too big. These problems alone might have been tolerable, if it wasn’t for the lack of apps in the BlackBerry store. Several of the apps I used the most on my previous phone simply weren’t available for the BlackBerry.

The company’s management knows this is an issue that isn’t about to go away soon. Getting developers to create apps for a operating system with such a small market share is no easy feat. The logical solution was to ditch its operating system in favour of Android.

BlackBerry will soon release the Priv, a new phone that runs on the Android operating system. Will it be a game changer for the company, or is it too little, too late?

Low expectations

Over the last year, BlackBerry hardware sales have been pretty weak.

In the most recent quarter, total revenue came in at US$490 million compared to US$916 million the year before. And that was even after software sales were up nearly 20%.

Obviously, users aren’t terribly excited about BlackBerry’s new phones. They care more about app selection than the things BlackBerry excels at, like security. These days, with everyone having a smartphone, most people just want one device for work and for everyday use.

These low expectations might be good news for the company. Even if the Android-powered phone is only a mild success, it could boost sales by a significant amount. Management has reasonably high expectations as well, predicting in the last quarterly results that phone sales will see an improvement from here on out.

Although Apple’s iPhone gets all the attention, Android-powered devices have quietly captured almost 80% of the smartphone market. Combining a popular operating system with BlackBerry’s superior security and the still in-demand physical keyboard could be enough to make the new phone a moderate success, which could be enough to move the stock the next time the company releases earnings.

Is it a long-term solution?

While I think there’s potential for BlackBerry to have moderate success with the Priv, I’m still not a long-term bull on BlackBerry’s phone division as a whole.

BlackBerry has just fallen too far behind other brands. The chance of BlackBerry surpassing brands like Samsung, LG, or HTC at this point is very low. BlackBerry’s management bet hard on its new operating system, a bet that just hasn’t worked out.

There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on BlackBerry as a whole. The company has made some interesting acquisitions in the software space. BlackBerry is a leading software developer in the Internet of Things market, which has trillion dollar potential. The company still has ample potential to work with other handset makers on security. And it still has a great balance sheet with an ample amount of cash on hand.

The Priv could very well be a moderate success, but it shouldn’t be the reason why any investor is a long-term believer in BlackBerry. The company’s potential in handsets is limited. It’s just too far behind competitors. But there’s still plenty of upside in software, a high-margin business with plenty of growth potential. Software is the key going forward. It’s that simple.

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 Nelson Smith owns shares of BlackBerry. David Gardner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple.

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