BlackBerry's latest mobile bet is struggling

Jun 07, 2016, 3:24 PM EDT
BlackBerry PRIV. (Source: WEi WEi/flickr)
BlackBerry PRIV. (Source: WEi WEi/flickr)

In a rare case of wireless carrier gossip, an executive at AT&T told CNET that BlackBerry’s latest device, which it had hoped would help it regain its footing in the mobile scene, is floundering.

The BlackBerry Priv was supposed to be a last gasp for BlackBerry amid continuous failures to reignite sales of its handsets. The Priv runs on Android, marking BlackBerry’s first shift to Google’s operating system, and was launched late last year as the company attempted to combine its hardware prowess with Google’s software appeal.

But BlackBerry only sold 600,000 phones in its fiscal fourth quarter — well below expectations of 850,000, and below the 700,000 it sold in the preceding quarter. And there were high numbers of returns on the devices.

CNET points out how rare it is for a wireless carrier to speak negatively of one of its handset partners, so the details from this anonymous AT&T executive speak to how poorly the Priv is actually doing. BlackBerry had hoped that the physical design and allure of Android would boost sales, but instead the executive emphasized that most buyers were BlackBerry loyalists. Clearly there are not enough of those to sustain an entire product launch.

As Blouin News reported last year around the Priv launch, while the Priv was certainly a gamble for BlackBerry, the company still has other aspects of its business to carry it through rough times. Still, the Priv's initially sluggish sales bode ill for BlackBerry’s future moves regarding its mobile handset business. The company had reportedly planned other Android-based phones. 

Add to all this grim news the fact that Kim Kardashian — perhaps the most high-profile BlackBerry user in the world aside from President Obama, according to The Verge — said this week that she is about ready to give up her BlackBerry Bold, and the company has an additional PR mess on its hands.

BlackBerry has rescued itself from fallouts over the last few years. Let's see if it can do it again.