One of the "Big Three" mobile computing giants – Google, Apple or Microsoft - could win big by picking up a loser: the once great BlackBerry. Despite its poor sales and sad marketing, BlackBerry (BBRY) actually has a great deal to offer a strategic acquirer with its secure data network, loyal corporate clientele and slew of valuable patents. But that's not all. Such a deal also offers some sweet tax advantages for the Big Three as Blackberry could possibly be paid for using foreign earnings that have yet to be taxed by U.S. authorities.
BlackBerry's failure to admit defeat has come at a great cost to its shareholders. In 2008, the mobile pioneer had a market value topping $84 billion and commanded more than 50% of the smartphone market. Five years later, the company's market value, as of the close of last week, came in at $4.8 billion, while its share of the smartphone market had fallen to a pathetic 3%.
The company made many missteps during that time, but, in a nutshell, BlackBerry missed the boat when it came to developing bespoke applications that made using the mobile web easier and faster for consumers. It also took years to offer a truly usable consumer-focused touch screen with a decent operating system.
The unveiling of the "BlackBerry 10" series smartphones and operating system earlier this year were valiant attempts by the company's new management to reenter the consumer market. The phones were comparable to other high-end phones on the market, and the operating system was smooth and relatively easy to use. But the 10 wasn't a game changer in any sense of the word and was simply too little too late. Consumers had already been locked into either Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) or Microsoft's (MSFT) operating platforms. Moving from one of the other platforms back to BlackBerry would have entailed large switching costs, which ultimately proved too high of a hurdle for consumers to leap over.
On Monday Blackberry formally announced that it had formed a special committee to explore strategic alternatives that would "enhance value and increase scale in order to accelerate BlackBerry 10 deployment." The company said it was open to all alternatives, including "possible joint ventures, strategic partnerships or alliances, a sale of the Company or other possible transactions."
Going private doesn't really offer Blackberry any real advantages at this point. It would have been better to do so a couple years ago or during the leverage buy-out boom, but not today. Sure, it is easier to chop up and sell the company while it is private, but Blackberry's assets have a degrading shelf life. The time it would take to rustle up all the offers and to go private and then to negotiate deals is too long of a time table. The 10 series would look ancient by then and the company would have burned up more of its $3.1 billion cash pile for nothing. The time to sell BlackBerry to a strategic competitor is now, not tomorrow.
Apple, Google and Microsoft could each leverage Blackberry's platform to make them more competitive as the three companies wrestle for the last bits of the smartphone market. For example, the iPhone's iMessage feature, which allows users to send free text messages to other iPhone users, has been an easy and cost effective way for Apple to lock people into its network. There is really no universal equivalent of iMessage on Google's Android operating platform or Microsoft's Window's platform, yet, despite rumors that they both were developing such a system. Blackberry's BBM system is similar to iMessage and is extremely popular in places as diverse as the United Kingdom and Haiti. Incorporation of BBM into their platforms would not only put Google and Microsoft on equal footing with Apple in the free text market, but it would also give them a built-in set of consumers from around the globe who can help spread their platform to other users. That alone could be worth billions of dollars of future revenue down the line.