Jan 16, 2020

BlackBerry is still here

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

John Chen may be the CEO of BlackBerry, but even he has to sometimes remind people the company is still in business.

Why it matters: BlackBerry no longer manufactures phones, but it makes more than $1 billion in revenue per year selling things like security software, an operating system widely used in cars and patent licenses.

Quick recap: BlackBerry bought embedded operating system QNX in 2010, exited the smartphone business in 2016 and started letting Chinese phone maker TCL sell BlackBerry-branded phones. Since then, it has been a software-only company.

By the numbers:

  • BlackBerry gets about $600 million from its so-called platform business, which includes the company's security and enterprise device management software efforts.
  • The app side of things, which includes QNX, generates around $400 million per year.
  • Licensing its portfolio of more than 38,000 patent families earns BlackBerry around $200 million–$250 million per year.

In an interview at CES last week, Chen talked about the company, its remaining businesses and why he thinks BlackBerry needs to be more aggressive.

  • The company is generating positive cash flow and eking out a small profit, but the naturally impatient Chen wants it to do better.
  • "We really do need to execute," Chen told Axios. "We could definitely do better."

Between the lines: Getting a bigger place in the car is a key priority for BlackBerry. The company's QNX operating system has been used primarily for in-car infotainment systems, but that is rapidly declining in value and now amounts to only $2–$5 per car.

But software for cars overall is a growth business as cars move toward autonomy and add features like automatic braking, parking and lane detection. Those types of systems can produced in the $10–$20 in software revenue per car.

"A car is going to end up with 100 million lines of code," Chen said. "It's amazing. That's much bigger than the lines of code in an F-14 fighter."

Yes, but: Getting automakers to adopt new technology is tough work and often takes years, Chen said.

Go deeper: BlackBerry drives into connected car market

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Photo: TCL

Chinese phone maker TCL said Monday that it will stop making BlackBerry-branded phones as of Aug. 31.

Why it matters: The move comes as TCL is increasingly focused on devices under its own brand and again raises the question of whether there will be future devices that use the BlackBerry name.

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Why it matters: "It’s a premise that has powered many upstarts in recent years: Uber is a tech company, not a taxi company; WeWork's a tech company, not a real-estate company; Tesla’s a tech company, not a car company," the Journal notes.

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Cargo, a New York-based startup that sells snack boxes and other amenities to ride-hail passengers, has laid off around two dozen employees and will pivot to car-top advertising, the company confirms to Axios.

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