While there are fewer critics of BlackBerry (TSX:BB)(NYSE:BB) these days, some investors still prefer to shy away from the company that was once the undisputed King of the smartphone market. Today, Blackberry is a software-first company that has completely altered its focus on several emerging trends in technology such as IoT, autonomous driving, and AI.
BlackBerry’s play on smart cities
Earlier this week, BlackBerry announced a new vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure service that the company argues is needed to genuinely get to the point of having smart cities and smart vehicles. The service allows vehicles and infrastructure such as traffic signals to communicate with one another, which could, in theory, lead to safer and less-congested roads.
BlackBerry is providing its new software to interested automotive manufacturers and public offices pursuing smart cities and connected vehicles for free, claiming that any stream of information between vehicles and infrastructure needs to be secure.
This is an interesting point worth noting. BlackBerry is already regarded as being synonymous with security, and the fact that other major tech companies that are also pursuing smart cities and connected driving projects have not directly mentioned security or, more specifically, how data from their autonomous vehicle projects are being used could be concerning.
Consider this: Modern smart devices have a bevy of sensors in them that report back usage and location of the device, which an increasing number of users are finding intrusive. To put it another way, as consumers of this technology, we have to weigh the true cost of being notified by your device that a nearby store has a sale for a product you were looking for is you, and that price is disclosing your location to those companies so they can market to you. Imagine how that might work in an autonomous vehicle? They could drive you by stores matching your interest instead of the quickest and safest route.
Chen eloquently addressed this at a recent conference: “We just want to secure communications. We want to let people control their own privacy, and the level and degree, so that when you decide you want to share … it is your explicit consent to share.”
That’s a massive opportunity for BlackBerry and a position that many, if not all, of the other major tech players in the autonomous game will never adhere to.
BlackBerry’s new service is set to be used with Invest Ottawa, which will test it on a 16 km stretch of autonomous roads that replicate a small city even down to stop signs, traffic signals, and crosswalks.
I’ve been a bull on BlackBerry for the longest time, and I still stand by that view for a few compelling reasons. First, there’s the opportunity presented by the growing autonomous driving market for which BlackBerry is a key partner that is only set to expand over the next few years. QNX is already in nearly 120 million vehicles worldwide, which creates an incredibly ludicrous current market position and places BlackBerry in a prime position to work on keeping, if not expanding, that lead over the next few years.
Then there’s the razor-like focus that Chen has instilled on the company in its transition from being a hardware-first to a software-first company, which has already provided positive results for the company and given Chen’s recent comments, shareholders can expect to see some growth from their investment in the near future.
Finally, there’s the slew of acquisitions over the past few years that, once stitched together, provide some insight over where BlackBerry as a company is going, and what areas it is going to focus on, such as AI and autonomous driving.