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BlackBerry interim CEO says company will focus on services to business users

TORONTO - BlackBerry's interim chief executive said Monday reports of the death of the company "are greatly exaggerated."

Former Sybase CEO John Chen said in a letter to customers that BlackBerry is returning to its roots, refocusing on delivering devices and services to business users.

Chen was brought in as the interim chief executive and executive chair after talks to sell the company collapsed last month.

He said in the letter that the company is aware that "BlackBerry is not for everyone."

Blackberry quickly lost dominance as the leading smartphone maker after the 2007 launch of Apple's touchscreen iPhone.

Chen notes that competitors are circling but that BlackBerry is "very much alive, thank you."

Chen said BlackBerry has substantial cash and said he'll refocus the company on four areas, including the handset business.

Chen put more emphasis on BlackBerry's mobile device management business, which allows IT departments to manage different devices connected to their corporate networks.

He also emphasized BlackBerry's popular BlackBerry Messenger application. And he mentioned embedded QNX software systems, which are used in-vehicle infotainment systems and industrial machines.

BGC analyst Colin Gillis said a letter meant to reassure customers is needed. The much-hyped BlackBerry 10 system, its latest phones, flopped. The company disclosed in September that it would book nearly a billion dollars in losses related to unsold phones and the company announced last month it was no longer for sale.

"They are being targeted pretty heavily. Their customers are up for grabs," Gillis said.

Focusing on business users is probably the only move Blackberry has left, Gillis said.

"It's a much smaller business. This is the niche player. You can build phones for those people in that niche. You can have a decent little business," Gillis said.

"Enterprise customers who like keyboards. There's not really a good keyboard device out there. Some people like keyboards. I personally don't love typing on glass."

Gillis said he expects Chen to name himself CEO soon because he's not acting like an interim CEO. "He's signing all this stuff as CEO," Gillis said.

Shares of BlackBerry rose 4 cents to $6.37 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.

The decline of the BlackBerry has come shockingly fast.

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, changed the culture by allowing on-the-go business people to access wireless email. Then came a new generation of competing smartphones, and suddenly the BlackBerry looked ancient.

Apple debuted the iPhone in 2007 and showed that phones can handle much more than email and phone calls. In the years since, BlackBerry been hammered by competition from the iPhone as well as Android-based rivals.

The Canadian Press


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