BlackBerry pens open letter explaining why the world shouldn’t write it off (yet)

BlackBerry RIP (image 001)

You can tell the end is nigh when a company buys full-page print ads to post an open letter making the case for its future. In the case of Canada’s BlackBerry, formerly Research In Motion, the writing has been on the wall ever since Steve Jobs took the stage at the January 2007 MacWorld Expo to introduce the world to the iPhone.

Given its former co-CEO’s state of denial and just plain stubbornness, I’d written off BlackBerry in my book long before first signs of trouble became public knowledge. Of course, BlackBerry continues to defy critics by insisting that it’ll find a way out of the hole it’d dug for itself.

Starting tomorrow, the BlackBerry feel-good aimed at customers, developers and investors will appear in over 30 major print newspapers across nine countries, including The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal in the United States.

Here’s the crux…

The letter, signed by the BlackBerry team, opens with the familiar theme.

“You’ve no doubt seen the headlines about BlackBerry,” reads the opening passage. “You’re probably wondering what they mean for you as one of the tens of millions of users who count on BlackBerry every single day.”

The message couldn’t be clearer: you can count on BlackBerry. According to The Washington Post, BlackBerry’s critical business customers will receive a copy of the letter Tuesday morning.

BlackBerry Z30 (front)

The rest of BlackBerry’s message makes some compelling arguments regarding the company’s future and why it’s the force to be reckoned with. Specifically, BlackBerry’s bread-and-butter software for business and government users – often hailed for its security and reliability – is being cited as the key differentiating factor that will ensure company survival.

BlackBerry’s chief marketing officer explained in an interview with The Washington Post that the company has no debt and has $2.6 billion on its balance sheet. Interestingly enough, never does the team mention any of the recently launched or upcoming devices.

Although the company will continue to research and support handsets running its BlackBerry 10 platform, it is clear now that the leadership team is re-positioning BlackBerry as a government and corporate software and security services company.

Interestingly enough, former Apple CEO John Sculley in July offered a word of advice to BlackBerry: drop hardware and focus on messaging and services.

Here’s the message in its entirety:

To our valued customers, partners and fans,

You’ve no doubt seen the headlines about BlackBerry. You’re probably wondering what they mean for you as one of the tens of millions of users who count on BlackBerry every single day.

We have one important message for you:

You can continue to count on BlackBerry.

How do we know? We have substantial cash on hand and a balance sheet that is debt free.

We are restructuring with a goal to cut our expenses by 50 percent in order to run a very efficient, customer-oriented organization.

These are no doubt challenging times for us and we don’t underestimate the situation or ignore the challenges. We are making the difficult changes necessary to strengthen BlackBerry.

One thing we will never change is our commitment to those of you who helped build BlackBerry into the most trusted tool for the world’s business professional.

And speaking of those dramatic headlines, it’s important that we set the record straight on a few things.

Best in class productivity tool.

We have completely revamped our device portfolio this year with the launch of BlackBerry 10. We have four BlackBerry 10 devices – two all touch and two hybrid (touch and QWERTY) – and all are running the third update of our new platform. If what you care about most is getting things done – taking care of your business – we have the best range of devices for you. And we continue to offer the best mobile typing experience – no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Best in class security.

Governments all over the world, global corporations and businesses that simply cannot compromise on security choose and trust BlackBerry. Security is our heritage, and the industry recognizes that BlackBerry is the most secure when it comes to the device, server and, of course, our global data network. Have no doubt that you can continue to trust us to keep your communication safe and private.

Best in class enterprise mobility management.

We changed with the market, embracing BYOD because we understand that as iOS and Android devices become common in the workplace, businesses still need to manage all of these different platforms seamlessly and securely.

This is not a trivial task. While there are a number of startup companies that make bold claims, BlackBerry has more software engineers and the most resources dedicated to developing the most innovative solutions to address this complex challenge.

And our customers know it. Over the past quarter, our BlackBerry® Enterprise Service 10 server base grew from 19,000 to more than 25,000. Corporate clients are committed to deploying and testing the latest enterprise technology from BlackBerry. We are committed to evolving with our customers. That will never change.

Best in class mobile social network.

We are bringing the most engaging mobile messaging platform to all, with our BBM launch for Android and iPhone.

There are already around six million customers pre-registered to be notified of our roll out. This number is growing every day, and speaks to the tremendous opportunity we have to expand BBM beyond BlackBerry smartphones to make it the world’s largest mobile social network.

Yes, there is a lot of competition out there and we know that BlackBerry is not for everyone. That’s OK. You have always known that BlackBerry is different, that BlackBerry can set you apart. Countless world-changing decisions have been finalized, deals closed and critical communications made via BlackBerry. And for many of you that created a bond, a connection that goes back more than a decade.

We believe in BlackBerry – our people, our technology and our ability to adapt. More importantly, we believe in you. We focus every day on what it takes to make sure that you can take care of business.

You trust your BlackBerry to deliver your most important messages, so trust us when we deliver one of our own: You can continue to count on us.

The BlackBerry Team

A spokesperson told Adam Zeis of CrackBerry that BlackBerry simply wants to reassure the millions of its users that the company is still standing strong.

In case you didn’t read through the whole thing, the letter mentions that the forthcoming BlackBerry Messenger app for iOS and Android devices may launch to some serious pent-up demand as more than six million people subscribed to email notifications when the service goes live.

The app was submitted to Apple in early-September, but got pulled after an Android build leaked on the web (plus, a user guide leaked back in August).

BlackBerry Messenger launched back in 2005 as one of the first platform-specific messaging services. And, despite the company’s continued struggles, it still remains extremely popular with over 60 million active users detected using the app monthly.

bbm 1

As you know, BlackBerry is slashing 40 percent of its workforce and warned investors to brace themselves for more $1+ billion quarterly loss over unsold device inventory. The once mighty smartphone has admitted defeat by retreating from the consumer market due to increasing competition from Apple, Samsung and Google’s Android.

As a result, the board has greenlit the plan to put BlackBerry up for a sale as the business approaches the point of no return. Fairfax Financial Holdings, which already owns 9.9 percent of BlackBerry, made a $4.7 billion offer which would take the free-falling phone company private.

BlackBerry’s ex co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille. Image via AllThingsD.

A recent filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission indicates that BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, who currently hold an eight percent ownership stake, are also considering bidding for BlackBerry.

As the Canadian smartphone vendor puts up a fight of its life to stay afloat, Apple has been caught poaching BlackBerry talent via a recruitment drive near its offices in Ontario, offering up both relocation and immigration assistance to hirable candidates.

Of course, BlackBerry hasn’t really been silent amid all of this – see its official @BBM and @BlackBerry Twitter channels for updates.

Reality check: BlackBerry has eroded to three percent of worldwide smartphone share.

So, what do you think of this?

Was BlackBerry wise to pen this open letter of reassurance to customers or does it expose their weakness and defensible position?

And do they have much to lose at this point?

Sound off with your thoughts down in the comments.