Business Insider’s latest update to its “20 best smartphones in the world” list slots BlackBerry devices into three of those 20 spots, with the Passport taking the Number 20 spot, the BlackBerry Classic at Number 19 and the BlackBerry Priv grabbing the company’s high point at Number 17.
Before anyone runs into the street chanting, “BlackBerry is back!” though, the list is a reflection of what Business Insider regards as “best”, regardless of sales.
Because on the sales front, BlackBerry barely exists.
Worldwide smartphone sales grew 9.7% in Q4 2015, according to the most recent Gartner report, “Market Share: Devices, All Countries, 4Q15 Update”, with total sales for the year reaching 1.4 billion units, a 14.4% increase over 2014 as a whole.
While that sounds like a very healthy increase, the report also points out that global smartphone sales exhibited their slowest growth since 2008.
Perhaps significantly, 2015’s final quarter was also the first in which that mighty BlackBerry killer the iPhone’s sales declined since its introduction in 2007.
The iPhone, a.k.a. the BlackBerry killer, that all but wiped out BlackBerry’s once dominant market share, which it has never recovered.
Even so, the iPhone 6S takes Business Insider’s Number 1 spot.
“Low-cost smartphones in emerging markets, and strong demand for premium smartphones, continued to be the driving factors,” wrote Gartner research director Anshul Gupta. “An aggressive pricing from local and Chinese brands in the midrange and entry-level segments of emerging markets led to consumers upgrading more quickly to affordable smartphones.”
BlackBerry decided some years ago, shortly after the end of Thorsten Heins’ tenure as CEO, to essentially abandon the popular mid-range phone market dominated by Samsung and its rivals, and to instead concentrate on high-end, enterprise-oriented products, like the Priv.
Perversely, though, the Priv is a high-end container for an Android operating system, which Gartner identifies as having “benefited from continued demand for affordable smartphones and from the slowdown of iOS units in the premium market in the fourth quarter of 2015.”
BlackBerry is unceremoniously slotted into the “other” category with regard to actual hardware sales in the Gartner report, while the market share for phones running BlackBerry’s operating system declined from 0.5% in Q4 2014 to 0.2% in 2015.
As drastic as that drop is, things are even more stark for Windows phones, which fell from 2.8% operating system market share in Q4 2014 to 1.1% in Q4 2015.
Merging an Android operating system with BlackBerry hardware ostensibly aimed at the “high-end” market signals BlackBerry’s perhaps final gamble at hanging on to what market share it has left, with no mention of whether a BlackBerry phone with a BlackBerry operating system will ever appear again.
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, BlackBerry unveiled several significant new partnerships and initiatives, a few of which involved their Internet of Things software subsidiary QNX Software, including a frankly dodgy sounding alliance with Sharecare, a consumer health care app founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz.
But no hardware announcements were made. No word on the fabled “Vienna”, nor any other handset to follow up the modest success of the Priv.
Anecdotally, of course, BlackBerry fans are BlackBerry fans, and remain absolutely convinced of the hardware’s superiority over the sickly pastel Miami Vice-ish aesthetic of the iPhone, or the chintzy child’s-toy like feel of an Android.
At the Cantech Investment Conference in January, Sean Silcoff sat behind a table running brisk sales of his and Jacquie McNish’s superb book, Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry.
“Have you noticed?” I asked him. “Almost everyone in this room uses a BlackBerry.”
Taking a moment to confirm that this was in fact the case, we hastily agreed that the conference’s demographic must represent a statistical outlier, or an alternate reality in which BlackBerry still ruled.