Is BlackBerry really on the right path?

Chief executive Thorsten Heins thinks so. Notes from this morning's investor's meeting.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor
Photo illustration: Andrew Nusca

You've got to feel for Thorsten Heins. 

Eighteen months after the Siemens veteran was named chief executive of Research in Motion, now BlackBerry, he's still fighting to tell the world that the company will be OK.

"BlackBerry will pursue every opportunity to create value for shareholders," he told investors this morning, as if they expected him to say anything less.

Impossibly, the Canadian mobile company continues to say that it is in the midst of a turnaround, even as it continues to deliver underwhelming goods. More impossibly, we keep buying it.

(Just search the web for the terms "make or break" and "blackberry" and you'll see members of the press set, then reset, milestones for the company. In 2013 alone, which is only half over, we've already seen the BlackBerry 10 operating system and a new family of devices—the Z10, Q10 and Q5—make headlines, then disappoint with lackluster sales and poor execution.)

Is meaningful change really underway? Heins continues to talk about a "transformation," and that's undoubtedly the case: new OS, new phones, new executive team. But it's unclear whether this "transition," as he has also described it, is both moving in the right direction and fast enough to matter. As in politics, "reform" moves in two directions.

Sentiment is souring:

"The fault lies with the devices themselves," Needham and Company's Charlie Wolfe said after the company blew its latest quarterly earnings. 

"It is not the end / of the road for BlackBerry / but it may be close," BGC analyst Colin Gillis wrote (in a haiku!) to investors.

"Irrelevant," Enders analyst Benedict Evans spat about the BB10 operating system.

And that's just a sample.

You should take analyst's opinions with a grain of salt, of course; the proof for mobile success is in the pocket.

But it's not any better there. In her review of the Z10, Jess Dolcourt said it "got the basics right" but was "not enough of a draw" for Apple and Google customers—hardly a glowing endorsement. In his review of the Q10, Sascha Segan wrote that the operating system was "too far behind" the rest of the market. That's the case for BlackBerry the company, too. 

Thorsten Heins keeps telling us to be patient, but that patience is clearly wearing thin. He might want to study up on a century-old old American idiom: "Put up or shut up."

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