Blackberry's eager little group of fans is shrinking

What now?

I cannot remember the last time a friend or colleague chose to go with a BlackBerry. It seems I am not alone. Blackberry has just released a fairly calamitous set of results for the first quarter. On an underlying basis, BlackBerry posted a loss of $67m; analysts had forecast a small profit and revenue of $3.4bn.

What is really surprising is that BlackBerry does not seem to have reported how many of its BB10 units it sold in the first quarter. That rather begs the question: do they not know the answer or is the figure so dire they want to keep quiet about it. On a very quick straw poll around the office, I found one brave soul prepared to admit that he had considered buying the latest BlackBerry.

One. Out of more than 20 people.

There was a time, not so long ago, when BlackBerry had its own little group of loyal fans, ever-eager to highlight the alleged attractions of the Blackberry when compared to Apple’s iPhone and the various Android devices. According to the firm, BlackBerry’s most recently launched devices were designed to bring back loyal customers to the fold. That project seems to be failing.

Except we do not know exactly the extent of the failure until and unless BlackBerry own up to the number of units sold in the first quarter. BlackBerry said that it sold 6.8m handsets in the quarter, up 13 per cent from the last quarter of 2012 – but gave no hint about how many of the 6.8 million phones were BB10 devices. Analyst forecasts suggested that BlackBerry would sell 7.5 million units in total in the quarter. So a big miss. The earnings got worse – or funnier – depending on your point of view. BlackBerry declined to predict how many handsets it will sell in the remainder of 2013.

It really is quite a fall from grace. BlackBerry was the original smartphone, predating the iPhone and winning plaudits long before Samsung Galaxy’s dominated the Android sales charts. The Q10 handset was released in March to generally favourable reviews from the tech geeks.

It is not cheap. This morning, Amazon had nine available for sale, at £480 each. For that sort of money, one can buy the most recent Galaxy S4 (£465) or the iPhone 5 (£470). The market viewed BlackBerry’s results with horror this morning: at one stage in pre-market trading, the stock was down 24 per cent. The price recovered a little to be down a mere 16 per cent when trading commenced.

So what next for BlackBerry? Only two weeks ago, Societe Generale sent out a note to clients upgrading its rating on BlackBerry to Buy. The fourth-largest US bank, Wells-Fargo issued an upbeat assessment for BlackBerry as recently as 14 June. Not every analyst is negative regarding BlackBerry by any means and the stock price is certainly volatile.

It kicked off 2013 with a share price of CS11.60; despite todays bad news, the share price is up more than 25 per cent for the year to date at C$15 but well down on its year-high price of C$18. No doubt there will be scribblers out there rushing to suggest that BlackBerry is the next Palm and that BlackBerry’s days are numbered. BlackBerry is no palm; not yet anyway.

Its cash position is strong. It has over £7bn in assets compared with les than $4bn in total liabilities. But it needs to give the market a little more guidance on how the latest device is selling. And it really could do with a strong second quarter.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.