BlackBerry boss John Chen quoted out of context over plans to exit handset business

BlackBerry chief executive John Chen has issued a statement hosing down reports the company is planning to exit the smartphone handset market altogether.

The speculation about a possible smartphone exit began after an interview with Reuters, when Chen was asked whether handsets were the least of the company’s priorities, compared to services and enterprise messaging.

“I would say that it’s not a handset-only turnaround, I think we need to look at there being an end-to-end solution rather than just a handset.”

Later in the interview, Chen was asked whether he had a benchmark, in terms of units, for judging BlackBerry’s handset business as being successful.

“The only benchmark I would say is not so much about ‘volume’, it’s about ‘I told the investors we need to make money in the handset business’ and this is what I’m fixated on doing.

“I’m hoping that between now and sometime next year, we will make money in the handset business.

The interview then asked Chen how the company would react if it really couldn’t find a way to make its handset business profitable.

“Well, if we really couldn’t find a way to make the handsets profitable – and there will be a way to make the handsets profitable – then maybe we’ll have someone else build more and more handsets and I’ll build less and less handsets, or maybe someone else will design handsets for me.

“There’s got to be a way to make handsets because our operating system and our software technology is so strong that if I just licensed software technology, I would do well. So we will be in the handset business, it’s just a matter of what level of integrations.”

Chen says BlackBerry still ships 3 million to 4 million mobile handsets a quarter, and his intention is to make money selling them at that volume.

He also explained that he was looking at acquisitions in communications, security and productivity, and was interested in making a play for the machine-to-machine communications market that is emerging with the Internet of Things.

Following the interview, Reuters posted an article quoting Chen as saying “If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business,” claiming the company was on the verge of existing the handset business.

After the reports surfaced, Chen issued a statement saying his comments were taken out of context by Reuters.

“I want to assure you that I have no intention of selling off or abandoning this business any time soon,” Chen says.

“I know you still love your BlackBerry devices. I love them too and I know they created the foundation of this company. Our focus today is on finding a way to make this business profitable.

“BlackBerry is not a handset-only company. We offer an end-to-end solution and devices are an important part of that equation. That’s why we’re complementing our Devices business with other revenue streams from enterprise services and software, to messaging.”

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