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

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.