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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496