Adaptive Blackberry takes the wheel

Blackberry w Wheel

Blackberry: Your future chauffeur?

Remember Blackberry? It’s still around—and making headlines. The company just announced its $1.4 billion cash purchase of Cylance, known among other things for AIs that guard against cyberattacks. And in particular, the autonomous car industry has taken notice.

A little over a decade ago, you weren’t cool, much less current, unless you were packing a Blackberry phone. With its tiny mechanical keyboard, groundbreaking trackball, full-color screen, and ingenious, secure integration of text, email, phone, and Internet capabilities, Blackberry was the bee’s knees. So strong was users’ dependence on the darned thing that envious people stuck with fading-star phones like Nokia ruefully dubbed it “crackberry.” 

Yet today, and perhaps you have noticed, not many people are walking around with their eyes and ears glued to Blackberrys. Its demise began in 2007, when Apple debuted iPhone. At the time, Google was set to launch its own phone with a Blackberry-esque design, but with one look at iPhone they round-filed their plans and went to work on what would eventually be the Android Operating System.

As for the folks at Blackberry, they succumbed to the temptation as market leader to rest smugly secure. Blackberry assumed, incorrectly, that their base would remain loyal. WordPerfect Corporation similarly miscalculated when, with the debut of Microsoft Windows, they elected to introduce another DOS-based product. By the time they came up with a Windows-based offering, Microsoft Word was well into eating their lunch.

There’s a lesson in there, and I don’t pretend to be the first to point it out: In a fast-changing environment, businesses and products that fail to adapt face extinction.

That sure has a familiar ring to it. It sounds a lot like this:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Were you to attribute the above statement to Charles Darwin, you’d be incorrect but in good company: just about everyone does. Actually, the phrase dates back only to 1963. It appeared in “Lessons from Europe for American Business,” an article written for Southwestern Social Science Quarterly by Leon C. Megginson, who taught at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge.

To be fair, Megginson was attempting to summarize what Darwin was getting at. But what is significant for present purposes is that Megginson wasn’t a professor of biology. He was a professor of management and marketing.

It wasn’t long before the folks at Blackberry realized they were being left behind. When they hurried and introduced the all-touchscreen Blackberry Storm, it was too little too late, and the device pulled poor reviews. Hoping to cash in on the tablet frenzy, Blackberrry introduced the Playbook. It was feature-poor and also pulled bad reviews.

In 2013, Blackberry brought on John Chen, known for turning companies around, made him CEO, and charged him with the company’s rescue. Under Chen’s leadership, Blackberry adapted—by exiting the phone business. Choosing to capitalize on legendary Blackberry security, the company reinvented itself as a provider of secure mobile device management software. Apps the likes of Blackberry Work, Blackberry UEM Client, and Blackberry Access enjoy a solid reputation and respectable sales.

It wasn’t the first time Blackberry adapted to a changing environment. Prior to making phones, the company, then known as RIM (for Reality In Motion), broke significant ground when it introduced two-way pagers and, later, email pagers. Phones came along yet later.

The Cylance acquisition is definitely a visionary step in Blackberry’s ongoing adaptation. Last week, calling itself “… a billion-dollar cybersecurity firm with the technology portfolio enterprises need to intelligently connect, protect and help build secure endpoints,” Blackberry announced that it had …

… completed its previously-announced acquisition of Cylance, a privately-held artificial intelligence and cybersecurity company based in Irvine, California.

“Today BlackBerry took a giant step forward toward our goal of being the world’s largest and most trusted AI-cybersecurity company,” said John Chen, Executive Chairman and CEO, BlackBerry. “Securing endpoints and the data that flows between them is absolutely critical in today’s hyperconnected world. By adding Cylance’s technology to our arsenal of cybersecurity solutions we will help enterprises intelligently connect, protect and build secure endpoints that users can trust.” notes that the addition of Cylance positions Blackberry to participate in a big way in the autonomous car market: 

BlackBerry Engineering VP Rupen Chanda told PYMNTS about the large amount of data that needs to be processed and protected in order for connected cars to operate securely … “We’re talking about literally hundreds of millions of lines of code—and automakers will be responsible for making sure it is all up to industry standards and secured against attacks from cybercriminals.” … The unfortunate reality, he said, is that cybercriminals are already working hard to crack car systems, and will only work harder as cars become more connected and increasingly software-dependent.

The idea of a hacker’s taking over your car while you nap in the backseat is unsettling to say the least. Who knows? The maker of that once-cool phone may one day save your life in traffic. Of course, if Blackberry and Cylink get it right—there’s every reason to believe they will—riders will remain unaware of the close calls they never had.


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