End game approaches as BlackBerry sales plummet

It is an unforgiving law of modern business: adapt or die. Make that: adapt fast - or die even faster.

It is an unforgiving law of modern business: adapt or die. Make that: adapt fast - or die even faster.

Like countless high-tech companies that captured and lost imaginations and dollars, BlackBerry, a giant of the pre-iPhone era, has faded with remarkable speed. After years of dwindling sales, the company said on Monday it was exploring "strategic options" - business code for searching for a saviour.

For the moment, few investors seem to want to buy BlackBerry or, for that matter, its newest products. Unless a suitor emerges, BlackBerry risks joining the ranks of technology has-beens such as Palm, Gateway and Commodore.

The abrupt decline of BlackBerry illustrates how consumers and investors demand almost instant change these days, especially from tech companies. The window for redemption for a tech company that misses a step can be very tiny.

Four years ago, BlackBerry accounted for a massive 51 per cent of the North American smartphone market, according to the research firm Gartner, and Mike Lazaridis, BlackBerry's co-founder and then co-chief executive, was promising an even brighter future. But then the company responded slowly to new iPhone and Android devices and sales evaporated. Now, the company has just 3.4 per cent of the market and Mr Lazaridis is gone.

BlackBerry's board and chief executive Thorsten Heins portrayed Monday's announcement as part of a new beginning, but few analysts and few in the tech community were buying that idea.

Instead, BlackBerry is often grouped with other once-powerful tech companies, such as Nokia and Dell, that are now struggling and appear to have hard roads back to growth, if any at all.

"Acquiring Blackberry [would be suicide]," said Jean-Louis Gassee, a former Apple executive who was chairman of PalmSource, an unsuccessful attempt to turn Palm, once the leader in hand-held computing, into a software company. "The brand is tarnished."

While not everyone is as pessimistic, there is little expectation the move by BlackBerry would bring much wealth to the company's beleaguered shareholders.

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