Blackberry is Alienating its last loyal fans

Announced today is another round of cuts to the people who have worked and toiled to make BlackBerry products the best on the market. Tragic for the families and the people involved as it allows other companies to poach highly talented people from the company. We have seen almost 10,000 employees (roughly) leave the company in the last couple of years alone. Most of these people have been cut from positions that were once Blackberry’s heart and soul; the hardware division. Blackberry phones used to be one of the hottest ticket items on the market, it was impossible to get one and harder to avoid the marketing around them. Years later and after multiple delays and downsizing we are at the company we see before us. Under John Chen who’s leadership has helped to return the company to before tax profitability and refocus the company. Blackberry has moved to becoming a security oriented software company with a major focus on enterprise and government. Yet, it does not have a clearly defined plan for its hardware division and because of this is leaving many Blackberry fans alienated and left behind by the company they so effectively supported through tough times.
Blackberry doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with the hardware division in today’s modern Bring you own device (BYOD) world. It continues to make phones with an orientation on very small niche segments of the market or directly targeted towards businesses. It has failed to properly produce a phone that is designed for those of its loyal fan base that continues to support the company and I believe that we will see these people start to wither away. I myself am one of those people who pushed the Blackberry Brand, I own Blackberry stock and I have purchased a number of different phones through the company (up to 4 now) but yet I feel left behind by the company. I am using a Z30 currently which when released in September of 2013 was a high-medium tier phone at best. I purchased it because of its battery life, the screen and its size as compared to my Z10. I do like the phone (minus the issues I am having) but I feel that Blackberry does not care for me as a target audience anymore and doesn’t want me to continue to purchase phones from them. In the last 6-12 months we have seen BlackBerry release 3 phones; The Passport, The Classic and The Leap. The Passport is the only phone of the 3 I would consider getting because of its specifications and its build quality (along with a couple other items). The Blackberry Classic is designed for the 9900 user that couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Q10. It’s extremely affordable because it cannibalized the same parts from the Q10’s that were never sold. It wasn’t designed for me as a consumer, it was designed for the CEO or the 40 year old who likes what he likes (or she). The Blackberry Leap isn’t again designed to surpass the Z30 it seems to be actually designed to replace the Z10. Again it uses many of the same parts as the Z10 and is no upgrade over the Z30. As a consumer this leaves me in a predicament; I have become accustomed to the full screen touch phones and would like to replace my Z30 with one such as that. It appears that BlackBerry has no plans to do something like this though and intends to focus on the small niche portions of the market.

This plan to focus on the niche portions of the market as an investor infuriates me because millions of dollars goes into research and development and there is limited to no return on that investment for the company. John Chen himself said that if he can get to 10 million phones annually that he will be able to make the hardware division profitable. Focusing on small market phones will not get BlackBerry to that number and nor will it help to make the company as a whole profitable. The small number of CEO’s and 40 year olds hanging onto their 9900’s were only worth investing that money into because of their influence in the decision making process of their companies. The Bring Your Own Device Market means for BlackBerry that many CEO’s have given up on providing employees with company phones for pleasure reasons and cost. This means that BlackBerry is going after an increasingly shrinking market with its enterprise and business oriented designs. This mindset leaves us the regular consumer and the Blackberry loyalists that the company is leaving behind. This is the largest portion of potential purchases and yet they have no plan oriented for them. How can you as a company leave this segment and not even makes the slightest attempt to target it. I understand as an investor you do not have the money to beat an Apple or a Google but I want you to at least to try. The Z10 sold incredibly well when it first came out because it’s what the market wanted. Lack of support, marketing and an immature operating system are what caused it demise. After 2+ years of growth we are seeing the BB10 phones operating system become more advanced, more stable and feature filled for more than your CEO or CIO. Yet the market has no idea of these advances and continues to think of BlackBerry phones as the one from 2008 that required excessive reboots and was slow.

Blackberry needs to come out with something that is going to entice the market even if it is just one or two people out of ten that walks into a carrier store or pops online shopblackberry.com. I know a number of people who would consider going back to Blackberry if they produced something that was worth having and was what they wanted. For example: A friend was ready to go out and purchase a new Blackberry phone and come over from an Iphone because she liked my Z30. The issue was that I wasn’t going to stick her on a 2 year plan with a phone that was 2 years old and going to be unsupported in the near future. The fact that Blackberry has no plans for a mainstream market phone also meant she crossed BlackBerry off her potential phone list. I would love to see BlackBerry support its fans and the market better than the way it has and appears to be doing so into the future. Provide the market with the reason to like you and your company again. If I was John Chen I would work this in a 2 year cycle now that North American carriers are off the 3 year plan bandwagon. BlackBerry could bring to market a large (5-5.5 inch) all touch with high end specifications which would appeal to the mass market. Along with that release a low end keyboard phone for the business world and the emerging markets. Year 2 release another phone like the passport which caters to the business market and release another lower/middle end all touch to replace the leap. This allows the market consumer to be catered too and allows an effective development and testing time. This also allows the business market to be catered to at a proper life cycle. When the original business phones start to die off then you release that new one after 2 years and companies know what to predict. I believe that this cycle could help Blackberry regain market share in both the enterprise and the consumer market. It would provide the employees of these enterprises with a proper option for their work and personal phones and make the company money. Blackberry needs to continue to develop its operating system in order to continue to keep its fans happy. This could easily be achieved with proper management of the inventory system making sure that excessive units are not produced.

A reply is a simple thing to do on your Facebook, most mobile phones are able to do it and it’s an important part of the social media experience but yet Blackberry 10.3.2 cannot. There are so many parts of the experience in Blackberry operating system that should be there and aren’t it’s surprising when you remember how old the operating system is. Blackberry continues to take members of its software team that would be used to keeping the operating system experience fresh, the apps new and feature filled and the experience exciting and cutting the positons or putting them elsewhere in the company. The experience on the phone lags down as it ages and it becomes less enjoyable for those who have the phone or want to buy one. I really do hate how much effort that 3rd party application developers have made to create their apps and make them look stunning to have the company give up on the consumer market. Blaq and Igrann are two of my favorite applications because they do the job so well and they serve the market perfectly but they have limited support from BlackBerry. What is the point in building for Blackberry when it seems that the company itself doesn’t even want to put the time or the effort into it. How do you expect to keep customers or to expand your customer base when your phone looks old, feels old and acts old. BlackBerry faltered because its other operating system aged and couldn’t keep up with the market demands and with a lack of investment we will see that here as well. Bugs within the system are ruining the experience for the customer in both enterprise and the consumer base. For example with regards to calling where the call screen glitches and takes its time to switch over; only to have the person calling hang up because they don’t realize that you don’t know that they are connected. I talked to my carriers support staff and this affected more than just me it was affecting businesses running the same phone. Businesses with 20+ phones running BB10 that were dropped because of these bugs. The company can always be more nimble but when you gut the software division that makes the phone tick and makes it look nice it takes a massive toll. No matter what you do to the security and the safety if the phone in today’s BYOD world if people don’t like it then they won’t want it. A pen and paper is an extremely safe way of keeping information but people don’t use it as much because it’s not convenient for most tasks and it’s a hassle to use.

I understand the reasons behind the move to the enterprise and the government. Its BlackBerry’s safe zone but that zone is getting smaller and smaller as companies look to reduce costs by allowing their employees to use their own phones. We need to see some type of investment into the other side as well here in order to try and keep the fan base happy along with entice new people. The company doesn’t need to compete with Apple or Google and nor should it. It does need to keep the fan base that is keeping the company alive though and try to expand itself by producing what the market wants even if it is only in smaller quantities. Today’s acquisition of AdHoc is another step in making sure the company is strong for the enterprise and governments in emergencies. This is a good buy as it entices them but you already have their confidence and their money. You need to find new money that you started to lose after 2008-2009 consumer base collapse and try to win some of that back.
Blackberry I have owned 4 phones from you now. I have been with the company through the transition from BBOS to BB10. I supported you with the Z10 and the Z30 but you are leaving me to dry here with this nonsense of the enterprise and software only idea. I want to support you but you have to give me a reason to and at this point there isn’t much reason. If it wasn’t for the fact that I purchased my Z30 only 6 months ago and I lack the funds required for a new phone; I would be gone and so would my money. I want to see this company survive and see it flourish but killing off the reasons I as a consumer can support you doesn’t do much for me. Your loyal fanbase is more than just the enterprise and governments. It’s regular people who love the phones you produce for their build quality, their battery and the operating system. If you are going to kill it then do so and put us out of our misery of waiting but if not then give us something to look forward to. The consumer market is the enterprise market and you need to realize this. As a fan, an investor and a blackberry owner you need to do better, need to be better and need to support those who have supported you; enterprise and consumer.

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My Take on the CBC ‘Hero’ interview:

After the flooding in May 2010 (Yes, I know it was a long time ago) 100 mm of rain fell in an extremely short period of time and flood prone areas of the community were severely affected. Thousands of families were forced out of their homes into neighboring areas, shelters and millions of dollars’ worth of damage was done. Together the community came together in order to try to do what it could to help these people attempt to return their lives to what they were before the flooding. Together with the Red Cross, Tbaytel, City of Thunder Bay and community partners a group of citizens put their boots on the front line and helped those in our community.

CBC asked for an interview and I obliged them but I did not know the title given to the interview or the outcome. I had been asked to do the interview after working 20 hours straight, overnight shift which eventually turned out to be a marathon 80 hour week. In the interview I said things like “it would help me to get my name into the community, how the volunteerism benefited me and things of the sort.” While this was true; that yes the volunteering looked great on my resume and helped me to land a work position. I was also volunteering for the flood relief because I was not directly myself affected and wanted to help in any means that I could. I was a student at that point and couldn’t help out financially but I knew that I could volunteer my time. I would hope that if something were to affect me to the degree that the rainstorm affected the number of families in Thunder Bay that someone would come and help me in my time of need as well. I volunteered to help rebuild the community in Thunder Bay and to help restore people’s lives who were struggling. Looking back at the title and the content I provided the interview it was wrong of me to say and I was no hero. I got to supervise and manned the social media aspects of the flood relief. There were hundreds of people who came in daily who worked much harder than I did the entire period I was there. I didn’t work during the time of the rain storm which allowed me to spend a lot of time at the church. Citizens of Thunder Bay and surrounding area came in after having completed their shift or having been with their kids all day to help restore the community. Some people even left their drenched/damaged homes to help out where and when they could. There were many much more deserving people during this time that deserved the title of ‘hero’ that were and never have been properly thanked for their effort. Hundreds of people spent thousands of dollars giving us and their neighbors assistance to help them return to normal. The rain storm was a huge undertaking for a group pulled together by social media and a desire to help.

Looking back I don’t believe I was a ‘hero’ and the content of my interview didn’t accurate portray the hard work people were doing around the clock 24/7 to help out their friends, family and neighbours.

Lakehead University’s Board of Governor Student Position

Lakehead University annually opens up a position of its board of governors to a student appointed by the LUSU president. The role of this person is to press for student needs at the top of the food chain within the university bureaucratic structure. I came across this position and then wondered to myself what I would want to stand for as a student in this position and how I would try to make my mark in Lakehead University for students across both campuses. I thought I had a good understanding of the issues surrounding both the campuses; being born in Thunder Bay and then going to the Orillia campus as a student. Both campuses have interesting issues and both have much different outlooks when it comes to growth, investment potential and importance in the long term. I believe that there needs to be two separate outlooks for both campuses in order to truly make the university somewhere that students are proud to go to and investors clamor to be a part of.

Thunder Bay Campus strategy needs to be about rejuvenation and fixing the issues. Lakehead University celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015-2016 and the buildings it used to teach all those students are starting to show their age. Thunder Bay campus needs to see major money put into it by Lakehead for the building mid-life rebirth. Investing in the campuses to modernize them and to bring modern amenities that they can be lacking. This will provide students with a modern and elegant place to learn and be proud of their campus. I believe that the money could be gained in a number of ways to improving the look of the campus:

1. Asking Thunder Bay City Council to create allocate 0.1-0.2% of the EIRP fund to repairing and funding Lakehead University repairs at the Thunder Bay Campus. ($120,000-240,000 annually)
2. Asking Thunder Bay Students to pay a $50 annual restoration and improvement fee. This fee would mean that LUSU gets a more important role at the table of what gets fixed and when. ($50 X 7000 [Students] = $350,000
3. Looking to major Thunder Bay/NW Region companies to sponsor names on buildings and use that funding for renovations of that building. (N/A)
4. Crowd-funding like the Thunder Bay Regional does in order to bring in further investment to the university for repairs and renovations.

Total additional income: $470,000 – $590,000

The Orillia campus needs to work on expanding their campus in order to grow their student numbers. The potential at the Orillia campus is greater for short-medium term growth due to a number of factors 1) Only University in the area 2) Large metro-area [Roughly 400,000 people within 20 minutes) 3) Close to Barrie [Fastest metro Growth in Ontario]. So Lakehead here needs to really expand programming that is beneficial to both the community and the province but that will also attract students in the long run as well. Here Lakehead needs to look at growth oriented courses and getting enough funding to support this growth. It can do this by:

1. Asking City of Barrie to establish a funding package with the school like they had planned with Laurientian University. (8.2 million annually) with sufficient hiring/student quota from the Barrie area.
2. Asking County of Simcoe to increase their funding annually.
3. Working with local developers to fund a new residence building/ series of alternative homes.
4. Looking to courses that have growth potential outpacing applicants and filling that need while also filling up traditional courses like nursing and kinesiology.
5. Creating new opportunity with courses like Business with a focus on technology, Information technology and rocketry (hard sciences).

In order for these things to happen we need to really look at Lakehead and make it a better place for our students. This means addressing sexual assault, mental health and finances on our university campuses. All these have been swept under the rug for too long and need to be addressed in order for us as a campus to be healthy and successful. There are a number of measures that we can use in order to truly help the student and make their lives easier on our campus.

1. Fund a mental health study conducted to find what are the major stressors that are causing mental health spikes like stress, depression, suicide and anxiety and the major deterrents to getting help ie. Lack of services, stigma.
2. Create a 24/7 operation for mental health and sexual assault on both the Orillia and Thunder Bay campus. Adequately staffed to deal with issues brought forward by staff and students confidently.
3. Introduce a fall reading week for students
4. Work with other universities to purchase textbooks in larger groups in order to drive down the price and pass those savings onto students. Look at purchasing items through companies like Amazon or Chapters Indego to get a larger purchasing power in order to find savings.
5. Look at stream lining operations within the university to find savings. Starting at the top to be conducted by a consultant in order to provide transparency for students. Look at perks and at types of contracts being given out to individuals to find savings. Then look through the organization for inefficiencies and if staff wages are in line with private sector costs (i.e. librarians making $700,000 a year {multiple people}.

If we want to be a good school we need to look at the way that we teach and we have to make sure that the people we have are in the right place for teaching people. We need people with experience in the research field and people who have real life experience teaching students so that the lessons learned are more than just verbatim from a book. I remember stories and lessoned learned in college and from some university professors which stick because they are relevant and real. Improving the university experience can be improved in a number of ways.

1. Making classes 2 hours long (up from 1.5) many times things were cut as a result of snow days, people asking questions or just overreaching content. This additional 30 minutes should provide the teachers with the opportunity to really provide the information necessary and should make scheduling classes easier. Classes that are 3 hours now would be 4 hours with a 15 minutes break in the middle of the class.
2. Teachers can only teach subjects they are proficient in and comfortable in. If a teacher doesn’t actually teach criminology and doesn’t normally do lectures then sticking him in that environment isn’t healthy for him or the students.
3. Finding teachers who have completed the job for classes that have an emphasis on a particular topic. Ie. A nurse teaching a class that is done specifically about post-op surgery or surgery care or a lawyer for a Canadian Law class.
4. Delaying the choice of classes for the next year in order to make sure the schedules are set and work with budgets. The allowing registration in a structured way to avoid students sitting for hours trying to register and overloading the servers.

Looking back at the idea of running for governor on the Lakehead council I have a number of ideas to improve the university experience and to make Lakehead more respected. Basically they break down as follows.

– Thunder Bay Campus: Focus on the next 50 years by repairing and rejuvenating the campus.
– Orillia Campus: Focused expansion to feed students into empty jobs and build the campus.
– Students: Focus on Mental Health, Financial Health and the Sexual Health of students.
– Change the way we teach students and focus on 1. Real World uses and examples 2. Theory mixed in.

This is what I would try to push through in a year at the Governors table. It’s likely that most of this would never get done but if the seed could be planted for a couple then it would be beneficial in my mind to the campuses, students and to the university as a whole.

What are your thoughts?