Hey BlackBerry fans, here’s a bit of good news: BBM will officially land on Android devices starting on September 21, with the iOS version going live the next day.
Hey BlackBerry employees, here’s a bit of bad news: there’s a decent chance that you or some of your co-workers are going to lose their jobs.
Those two stories broke within minutes of each other today, and together they paint a peculiar portrait of a company that was once the de facto ruler of the smartphone roost.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the layoffs earlier today, claiming that the company could ultimately cut up to 40% of its total workforce (which equates to thousands of employees) by the end of the year in a bid to cut costs and keep itself afloat. These larger waves of layoffs were preceded by a smaller spate of firings earlier this summer which saw 250 employees let go from the company’s Waterloo R&D and product testing facility. The last great BlackBerry exodus started in earnest over the summer of 2012, when it was revealed that some 5,000 employees would be fired by the end of that year.
Now it seems that process will begin anew, though at the time the remnants of the company were hopeful that the impending launch of BlackBerry 10 would finally move the needle in a more positive direction. Here were are some eight months later and BlackBerry still hasn’t managed to regain its former stature (especially now that Windows Phone finally seems to be picking up some steam).
Meanwhile, BBM has always been a cornerstone of the BlackBerry experience, and its migration to other platforms is being looked at by some as a harbinger of bigger and better things. When CEO Thorsten Heins revealed that tentative BBM launch window at BlackBerry Live back in May, he said it was because of a “state of confidence.”
“The BB10 platform is so strong and the response has been so good that the time is right for BBM to become an independent mobile messaging platform,” he continued.
While it’s heartening to hear that iOS and Android users clamoring for yet another messaging app won’t have to wait too much longer, BBM’s chances of striking a chord with the masses are questionable. There’s the sheer pervasiveness of the competition — there’s WhatsApp, Viber, Imo, Tencent, LINE, and KakaoTalk just to name a few. And now for the certain subset of BlackBerry users (I’m sure there are at least a few) that cling to their devices because of BBM, well, they’ve got an exit strategy that didn’t exist before.
BBM’s more secure approach to messaging and its future support for Channels (which will allow for smoother brand-consumer communication) may win it some fans, but it remains to be seen how much of a splash BBM can make outside of the company’s own hardware ecosystem. And that’s to say nothing of the rumors that BlackBerry as a company will be cut up into slivers and sold (with the BBM business possibly being one of them), which kind of makes these new waves of layoffs look like a bid to appear more comely to potential buyers by lightening up the ol’ balance sheet.
In the end, both stories depict a company that is scrambling to survive. It may be that the scrappiness of a smaller team and a wider audience of people who appreciate a service BlackBerry has created may be enough to turn the tides for the beleaguered smartphone player, but I suspect for now things will continue to get worse before they get better.
I’ve reached out to BlackBerry for comment, and will update this post if/when I get a response.