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BlackBerry Ltd. Is Not the Next Apple Inc.—And That’s a Good Thing

On the surface, there appear to be many similarities between BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) in 2015 and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) back when it was struggling in 1997.

Apple was the dominant PC manufacturer just a few years earlier. Sales of its products were declining, but it still had a loyal user base of die-hard fans. Apple was also celebrating the return of Steve Jobs, who was adamant the company design new products. Apple’s releases in the 1990s were more expensive than comparable PCs without the innovative features that Apple was known for. Jobs changed that.

We all know what happened next. Under the leadership of Jobs, Apple came out with the iMac, the iBook, and then eventually the iPod, iPad, iPhone, and other industry-leading products. Apple rose to be the biggest company in the world.

Like Apple, BlackBerry was once a dominant player, at one point controlling more than 20% of the smartphone market. And like Apple, the company brought in a saviour CEO once it stumbled. John Chen brought the same sort of hope to BlackBerry that Jobs had brought to Apple back in 1997.

BlackBerry also pledged new products. The company redesigned its operating system from the ground up, releasing BB10 in early 2014. When the Q10 and Z10 models flopped, BlackBerry came out with other models, rather than rethinking BB10. It finally threw in the towel and came out with the Priv, an Android-powered device.

The difference between BlackBerry and Apple

There’s one big difference between the BlackBerry and Apple turnarounds. Apple essentially created demand by coming up with new and innovative products. The iPod was a real game changer; so were the products that came after it.

BlackBerry tried to turn around by doing what it’s always done. Instead of realizing that Android was going to be the platform of the future, the company stuck to its guns and came out with BB10. That didn’t work out so well. Folks avoided the phones because of the lack of apps available.

The Priv solves the app problem, but it’s still just a phone in a very crowded market. BlackBerry diehards might be excited about it, but most of the handset-buying public hardly know it exists. It’s possible that the Priv will sell millions of units; I just don’t think it’s likely. Investors should brace themselves for a modest success at best. Even a million phones would nicely boost BlackBerry’s bottom line.

I think many investors are holding out hope that BlackBerry will come out with a new device that will help it retake some of its former dominance, like Apple did with the iPhone. But in today’s tech world, BlackBerry doesn’t have the first-to-market advantage any longer. Thus, I think the chances of that happening are slim to none.

Where the recovery lies

John Chen understands the company’s future isn’t in handsets just as well as I do. But he can’t abandon what made the company famous overnight.

Instead, the key to BlackBerry’s turnaround is software. The company is poised to become a leader in the upcoming Internet of Things revolution, a market that has been estimated to be worth north of $1 trillion. BlackBerry has already become a dominant player in designing the software that powers vehicle entertainment systems.

BlackBerry is also betting on security. It has been signing agreements with many of the giants in the industry, helping them make their devices more secure. Security is poised to be one of the big issues over the next few years, and BlackBerry is the well-established expert on it.

BlackBerry has made two notable acquisitions in 2015. The first was for Good Technology, a mobile security firm. The other was for AtHoc, which provides network communications when there’s an emergency.

Notice how neither of those are in the handset space? There’s a reason for that.

BlackBerry’s turnaround isn’t likely to rival Apple’s, and it probably won’t resemble it either. The fact is that BlackBerry’s future is in software and security, not in the handset business. The good news is that management realizes this, and there’s still a bright future in both those subsectors of the tech world. It’s time that BlackBerry’s investors realize this, too.

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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