Shares in the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones peaked in August of 2007, at two hundred and thirty-six dollars. In retrospect, the company was facing an inflection point and was completely unaware. Seven months earlier, in January, Apple had introduced the iPhone at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Executives at BlackBerry, then called Research in Motion, decided to let Apple focus on the general-use smartphone market, while it would continue selling BlackBerry products to business and government customers that bought the devices for employees. “In terms of a sort of a sea change for BlackBerry,” the company’s co-C.E.O Jim Balsillie said at the time, referring to the iPhone’s impact on the industry, “I would think that’s overstating it.”
Six years later, BlackBerry’s stock is worth just over ten dollars a share, and on Monday it announced that it has formed a “special committee” to explore ways to sell the company or form a joint venture with another business, among other options. This was a striking declaration: although BlackBerry has been in trouble for some time—it underwent a public “strategy review” of its business plan a year ago—its decision to put up a giant, blinking for-sale sign suggests it has become especially desperate. If BlackBerry sells itself, the buyer’s biggest gains will be a pile of cash, a big portfolio of patents, and some security technology. In other words, one of the companies that pioneered the smartphone market may soon end up selling itself as scrap.
$236-a-share to $10-a-share in six years. Crazy. Yet another tale of how quickly the mighty can fall — while seeming clueless the entire way down. And that’s not overstating it.