The obituary of BlackBerry as the pioneer of smartphones has already been written countless times. But after diverting its business from devices to the software that powers them, reports of the company’s death turn out to be premature.
BlackBerry’s QNX software, which tracks real-time data for features like Google maps, GPS navigation, traffic monitoring and infotainment systems, is already built into millions of cars on the road today. hui.
And the company recently partnered with Amazon to create BlackBerry Ivy, a new cloud-based platform that takes autonomous driving technology a step further, collecting real-time data and making data. On-the-fly recommendations for everything from dangerous road conditions to the location of the nearest electric or gasoline charging stations.
“You can look at things like traffic jams or offer new services to your customers, like being able to recommend where there is an open parking space, depending on where you are,” says Sarah Tatsis, who runs the program at BlackBerry. , describes it.
Placing hopes on an automotive future
The company has high hopes for the technology, but acknowledged that it is not perfect in a press release last week. Damaging its stellar reputation for security, BlackBerry revealed that it found a potential vulnerability in versions of QNX released before 2012.
While versions since then have not been affected and the company has said it “is not aware of any exploitation of this vulnerability,” this underscores how BlackBerry believes the auto industry is important to its. to come up.
While few drivers are probably aware, QNX is already installed in 195 million vehicles on the road today. That’s nearly 100 times the number of vehicles Tesla has on the market, providing similar data points for learning and giving the fallen Canadian tech giant a leg up in the self-driving space.
“It’s a big advantage for BlackBerry to be already present in nearly 200 million smart vehicles right now,” freelance tech journalist Pascal Forget said in an interview with CBC News.
“They have a lot more data points, a lot more data that they can use to improve their systems over Tesla.”
Forget says he doubts that being a single component under the hood of every smart car on the road is enough to bring the company back to its glory days, but he says it could at least mean a new lease of life.
Bumpy road back
CEO John Chen has been running BlackBerry for eight years now, and his mission from day one has been to do exactly what they’re doing now: get away from the losing battle of handsets and into the software that will power the gadgets of tomorrow.
This path has been painful, with several rounds of major layoffs that hit the tech hubs of Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario hard.
“It was a really tough time and there was a lot of concern locally,” said Mike Kirkup, former head of developer relations at the company.
As BlackBerry lost people, Kirkup says there has been a concerted effort to retain much of the company’s talent in the region. Because even as it died in smartphones, the company was giving birth to the next generation of high-flying tech stars.
Many ex-BlackBerrys went on to create their own startups, while others helped existing tech companies take their business to the next level.
Data monitoring firm Magnet Forensics, for example, is made up mostly of former BlackBerry employees on its management team, including CEO Adam Belsher and Chairman Jim Balsillie, who co-founded BlackBerry with Mike Lazaridis in the early 1990s. , when it was called Research in Motion.
Magnet Forensics, which helps law enforcement fight cybercrime, went public in May with an IPO on the Toronto Stock Exchange that raised $ 115 million. Barely three months later, these stocks have already tripled in value.
“I think this is the underrated or underrepresented story of the impact of what all these BlackBerry folks are doing now: They are evolving the next generation of businesses with a level of experience and knowledge. worlds that very few people would have had before, ”Kirkup says.
Processing of actions even
While the name lacks the cachet it once had, BlackBerry’s penchant for cutting-edge technology was a factor in the company’s shares which soared earlier this year.
The share price hit a nine-year high in January after the smart car deal was announced with Amazon, but much of the hype came from BlackBerry’s sudden status as a “meme stock.” – a company in which retail investors are adding money, often confusing analysts who have more intimate knowledge of the company’s financial outlook.
Robert Tétrault, portfolio manager at Canaccord Genuity in Winnipeg, says BlackBerry owes its race to the “GameStop phenomenon,” where online investor forums co-ordinated to stimulate transactions and increase the value of certain stocks.
“It was about sticking it to institutions, sticking it to Wall Street. And pumping out a stock that they thought could grow.”
While this rally has for the most part fizzled out, BlackBerry’s brief period as a meme action shows how investors think the company has valuable technology under the hood.
Regardless of this hype, turning high-tech driving software into real profits will be where the rubber meets the road for the business.
“The writers focus on the next big thing and the profits are smaller. But at the end of the day, a stock will reflect its potential future profits, regardless of what happens online,” Tétrault said.