In the space of a few hours last night, BlackBerry’s value on the stock market skyrocketed by nearly a third and then promptly plummeted back down. The catalyst for that rollercoaster ride was a Reuters report alleging Samsung was courting BlackBerry with a $7.5 billion takeover bid, which was quickly refuted by officials from both Waterloo and Seoul. Though it’s now apparent that no imminent acquisition is in the offing, the mere rumor of Samsung buying BlackBerry proved appealing enough to get people to invest real money in it.
Setting aside the credulity of overeager investors, there are three big reasons that can justify BlackBerry’s price and they all relate to its potential value to a global giant like Samsung.
BlackBerry’s well-documented struggles as a smartphone maker tend to obscure the strength of its enterprise business. BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) is the gold standard for securing and managing mobile business communications, having been deployed by thousands of private and public organizations around the world. This market is unglamorous but reliably profitable, and Samsung has already demonstrated an appetite for it with its own Knox initiative on Android. Knox showed early momentum with approval for use by the US Department of Defense in 2013, however its security has since been called into question by a series of discovered vulnerabilities. Samsung’s response has been to integrate BlackBerry’s end-to-end encryption into Knox starting this year, but that solves only half the problem. Even under a best case scenario, Knox will take a long time to just get Samsung in through the office door, whereas the Korean company is looking to be a corporate player right away.
BlackBerry unlocks the lucrative market for enterprise software and services
Big businesses have an ingrained reluctance to changing established practices, which makes the incumbent BES unlikely to be ousted from its leading position any time soon. Acquiring ownership of it would solve two problems at once for Samsung: the Korean company would immediately become a major presence in offices everywhere and its revenue sheet would add a consistent source of income. That’s particularly salient to Samsung as it tries to overhaul its all-important mobile devices division and revive flagging sales, but there’s pretty much no big tech company that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of BES. Together with BlackBerry Messenger — which is also cross-platform, usable on iPhones and Android handsets as well as BlackBerrys — BES marks a spectacular upgrade over Samsung’s in-house Knox and recently cancelled ChatOn efforts.
The crown jewel, in the words of CEO John Chen, of BlackBerry’s remaining assets is the QNX software platform. Noted for its security and flexibility, QNX is the predominant software used in modern car infotainment systems, even providing the basis for Apple’s CarPlay and recently supplanting Microsoft in Ford’s Sync 3. Samsung is going after the connected car and QNX is already there. Instead of fighting an uphill battle against the better software designers at Apple and Google, Samsung can establish a strong position for itself in smart vehicles by providing the platform underpinning middleware like CarPlay and Android Auto.
Besides smarter cars, the other big theme of the Consumer Electronics Show that just wrapped up in Las Vegas was the Internet of Things (IoT), where Samsung has again expressed a desire to be a leader. As it happens, QNX has a number of IoT-related use cases — covering diverse industries like aerospace, defense, security systems, and medical devices — that would help Samsung’s plans for future growth. Those capabilities could be expanded more readily with Samsung’s depth of resources and breadth of operations, making QNX one of the top reasons Samsung would desire BlackBerry.
The internet of QNX-powered Samsung things could be formidable
The third pillar of BlackBerry’s enduring value is its patent portfolio. Decades of research and development into wireless systems and devices have built up an enviably deep pool of intellectual property. Valuations vary, but the patents by themselves would be worth billions of dollars, and Reuters’ source actually names them as the key attraction for Samsung. Through its subsidiary, Certicom, BlackBerry owns 130 highly regarded encryption patents — some of which are used by the NSA — that could come into play as more companies and services better secure their software and seek licensing to utilize those patents. We’ve already seen Google spend significantly more on acquiring Motorola’s library of patents, and BlackBerry’s might be the last appealing bundle of intellectual property left on the market. If Samsung doesn’t go aggressively after it, odds are that someone else will.
Decoupling BlackBerry’s smartphone production from the rest of its operations helps to illuminate the company’s strengths, but any takeover would have to account for BlackBerry’s still significant hardware business. It continues to lag badly behind Android and the iPhone, and though BlackBerry OS is improving, the ecosystem gap is so vast that there’s little hope of it ever catching up. If there’s any ray of sunshine, it would come from a giant of Samsung’s stature putting its marketing and manufacturing muscle behind BB OS. For Samsung, the motivation would be the same as the one driving it to persist with its unloved Tizen OS in spite of little external support: avoiding an all-out reliance on Google and its Android platform. Still, with Samsung unlikely to shift its smartphone production or design, taking over BlackBerry phones would be accepting a liability rather than gaining an asset.
In an overheated tech market where unprofitable social apps fetch valuations in the tens of billions of dollars, BlackBerry’s rumored $7.5 billion price feels almost quaint. Yes, the smartphone division is an unholy mess, but BlackBerry is rich on unique advantages whose value would be greatly amplified by being integrated into a larger company with broader operations. Imagine BBM preloaded on every Galaxy device, Blackberry Bridge on every Ativ laptop, BES on every corporate server, and QNX on literally everything. Samsung is the world’s most diverse manufacturer of things and BlackBerry has the pieces to make those things smarter, better connected, and more secure.