BlackBerry’s buyer: Who’s likely and who’s not

He’s not the sleek-suited senior executive type you might associate with the BlackBerry brand, but even sitting on his tractor, Trevor Herrle-Braun is an example of where the smartphone maker continues to find success.

The operations manager at 150-year-old Herrle’s Country Farm Market in St. Agatha, Ont., Herrle-Braun uses the company’s latest device, the Z10, for almost every aspect of his business. This includes tracking the progress of planting and spraying on a spreadsheet, looking up grain prices or communicating with other employees via BBM. He says he loves the Z10’s screen size, the intuitive BB10 operating system and just needs more relevant agricultural apps.

Like many committed BlackBerry users, however -- he’s been using one of its devices for 10 years -- Herrle-Braun is well aware of the company’s struggles, including recent reports BlackBerry is accelerating its search for a buyer as early as November.

“We’ll remain true. We’ll stand behind the company and do our best to support them,” he says. “You always hope for the best.”

Unfortunately, recent data suggests BlackBerry’s adoption has taken a turn for the worse. On Thursday, IDC released a report which showed BlackBerry’s OS at 2.7 per cent market share, and a projected decline to 1.7 per cent by 2017. Ramon Llamas, an analyst with the Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm, said an acquisition may do little to stop its installed base from plummeting further and faster.

“We’ll obviously be watching when they have their next earnings presentation later this month -- how have the shipments been going in that time?” he said, adding, “a lot of it will depend on who the buyer is.”

We already know it’s not going to be Microsoft, which acquired the smartphone division of Nokia instead earlier this week. With that in mind, I’d say the other main possibilities include:

Hewlett-Packard: The company tried, and failed, to kill off BlackBerry with its Mobile Messenger device, but has moved away from handhelds for several years after doing next to nothing with Palm. If CEO Meg Whitman wanted to jump-start the company’s move into mobility, BlackBerry would be a fit for both its enterprise and consumer clients.

Lenovo: The company got into the big leagues by acquiring IBM’s PC portfolio, but desktop sales have since plateaued. BlackBerry could make the Chinese firm a serious contender again, but would the Canadian government allow such a transaction given the current political climate?

Dell: Admittedly a long shot given its current negotiations to go private, but it’s been a long time since the company offered its Axiom handset. Both have had strong footholds in the enterprise and the combination could bring together an interesting cross-section of hardware and software products.

The most likely outcome? Not another vendor but an investment entity like Fairfax Financial Holdings or the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, who could either pump in the cash BlackBerry will need to survive or who could spin off software and hardware units into smaller but nimble niche players in mobile device management or messaging. Either way, let’s hope BlackBerry’s board sees the sale less of a panicked exit plan and more of a strategy for transformation. As farmers like Herrle-Braun could probably tell you, it’s not always possible to save a poor harvest, but you can always plant the seeds for future growth.

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