There are few companies that investors and analysts alike are as passionate about as BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY). The company’s demise has been predicted, forecasted, and priced in to the stock for over five years, and yet the company is not only still around, but it’s in a much stronger position today.
BlackBerry surrendered its position in the smartphone device market over five years ago as both iOS and Android devices emerged with more features and better functionality, and as a result a larger market share. BlackBerry in turn saw market share shrink from nearly 20% to less than 1%, resulting in multi-billion-dollar losses, significant staffing reductions, and severe cost cutting on nearly every level. Ouch.
That was pretty much the landscape when John Chen took over at BlackBerry.
Chen refocused the company on its roots: the enterprise market, software, and services. All of those segments are stronger today, and, in some cases, that focus may be what has saved BlackBerry up until now.
And then there’s the hardware division. Chen infamously proclaimed that the hardware division would be closed off if, by September, a certain number of device sales could not be attained.
September is upon us … and the hardware division is still open
BlackBerry has released two devices so far that run on Android. The flagship high-end Priv, which is closing in on being a year old (it’s still perfectly relevant as a mid-tier device), and the recently released DTEK50, a low-priced device that targets corporations and budget-minded users.
While we may get a glimpse into some DTEK sales at the next quarterly update later this month, Priv sales have been unimpressive. BlackBerry only sold 500,000 devices in the last quarter, which is down from 600,000 a year ago. For a device that is nearly a year old, investors shouldn’t expect that figure to be any better, regardless of any incentives BlackBerry throws at customers.
Which leads to one possible reason why the hardware division may still be around: BlackBerry still has at least two more phones to release over the next few months.
According to some sources, BlackBerry has a number of new devices planned for 2016. One such device, code-named the “Hamburg,” has already traversed through the FCC for the necessary approvals. Typically, once a new handset appears on the FCC, a launch window of a few weeks is more than likely.
Another device, code-named the “Rome,” is also in the works; it’s rumoured to be similar to the Priv.
Either way, it’s apparent that BlackBerry’s hardware division isn’t quite done yet, which could be a good thing for the industry. BlackBerry devices are notorious for their build quality, typically withstanding drops far better than the glass slabs of other competitors. BlackBerry’s devices also cater to the small yet loyal physical keyboard base.
If the DTEK50 is able to sell as well as expected, particularly to enterprise customers, then it’s entirely possible that BlackBerry may reach the required mark set by Chen to keep the hardware division running and release both the Rome and Hamburg devices.
In my opinion, BlackBerry is a risky investment at the moment. While the company’s financials are improving, the revenues of the company and sentiment by analysts still hinge on the performance of the handset division. At this point, there are far better opportunities for investors to add to their portfolio.