Remember the ill-fated BlackBerry Playbook? Released six years ago, on April 19, 2011, the tablet looked for a moment like it might catch on.
“Forget the Amazon Kindle Fire, the BlackBerry PlayBook is now the best low cost tablet,” raved ZDNet’s Matthew Miller at the time.
But the PlayBook, like many BlackBerry devices released since the iPhone and iPad, ended up going precisely nowhere. By 2013, BlackBerry had shipped more than two-million of the postcard-sized devices, but most of those were at a vastly reduced price. The PlayBook was assigned to the “rock bottom remainders” section of history.
But now, according to the Canadian Press’s Aleksandra Sagan, BlackBerry is talking about reviving the tablet. Well, to be clear, the ever pragmatic John Chen is talking about licensing out BlackBerry’s name for someone else to make a tablet. It may seem a small difference to the consumer, but for BlackBerry it’s worlds apart from a time when it manufactured its own devices in Canada. The recently released KEYone, an Android-based phone with a physical keyboard, might not have made much of a splash, but having been manufactured and promoted by China’s TCL, it hardly mattered to BlackBerry’s bottom line.
For the first time in a long time, BlackBerry appears to have at least a little momentum. That comes courtesy a fourth quarter that bested expectations when reported yesterday, a result that lent credibility to Chen’s long-term plan to transform BlackBerry from a company that sells increasingly low-margin hardware to one that sells more profitable software and services.
“I am pleased to report that our fourth quarter results came in at or above expectations in all major metrics,” said Chen. “In the quarter, we continued to grow our mix of software and services revenue across the company. In turn, this allowed us to expand our operating margin and report positive free cash flow. In addition, our balance sheet continues to strengthen and benefit from reduced capital requirements with our focus on software and licensing.”
BlackBerry ended the quarter with a cash position of about $1.7-billion, a figure that was $89-million better than the previous quarter. Chen says the former tech giant is fast putting its money losing hardware ways behind it with a mix of offerings the company expects to rise to profitability.
“In our areas of strategic focus, we are executing well and gaining traction,” he said. “In our enterprise business, we had one of our best-ever software billings quarters, driven by strength across regulated and non-regulated industries. Enhancing our position in public sector, we recently achieved FedRAMP certification for the U.S. government. In IOT (Internet of things) appliances, we won new business and secured six new customer trials for radar. We demonstrated our autonomous driving technology platform at CES 2017. In mobile software licensing, we signed our third major agreement, and we now have global coverage. We are entering the next phase in sublicensing our secure software to a variety of new mobile endpoints. We also entered the CPaaS market with the launch of our BBM Enterprise software development kit, which will expand our addressable opportunity in a high-growth segment. Looking ahead to fiscal 2018, we expect to grow at or above the overall market in our software business. We also expect to be profitable on a non-GAAP basis and to generate positive free cash flow for the full year.”
Shares of BlackBerry on the TSX closed Friday up 11.1 per cent to $10.30.