The BlackBerry 10 OS was supposed to save BlackBerry, but the company's phones have now slipped into fourth place behind Windows Phone, according to IDC and others.
That slip seemed to be a pivotal event in BlackBerry's decision, announced Monday, to set up a committee to explore selling the company or finding a partner for it.
IDC last week said that BlackBerry's market share fell to 2.9% in the second quarter -- its lowest share since the analyst firm has been tracking its devices. Windows Phone was at 3.7%, while Android led with nearly 80% and iOS held 13.2%.
The BlackBerry decline indicates how corporate buying decisions for smartphones have shifted. Corporate buyers have downgraded BlackBerry devices like the Z10 and Q10 running BlackBerry 10 from "primary" buying consideration to "secondary" status, said Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner.
"If BlackBerry goes private or [reorganizes into separate businesses], that's still not going to address how the company restores itself to primary consideration status [with buyers] and it's difficult to see how that happens at this point," Menezes said.
"BlackBerry still has cash, but even though their smartphone share is incremental, what's the strategy going to be to regain or hold onto the incremental share they have?" Menezes asked.
Reports of BlackBerry slipping to fourth position are part of a gradual lessening of interest in BlackBerry by corporate buyers, a traditional mainstay for the company, he said.
"Every [negative] piece of public information that comes out saps the BlackBerry brand if you are a large company or already are on the fence deciding whether to continue with BlackBerry, especially if Windows Phone is a bigger share and employees are saying they really want a Galaxy or an iPhone," Menezes said.
The committee creation is "the writing on the wall" for BlackBerry loyalists, said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research. Loyalists include corporate users of BlackBerry going back more than 10 years who were waiting for the Q10 with its qwerty keyboard, as a replacement for a Curve or Bold device with physical keys.
Sales of the new OS phones totaled only 2.7 million units during the three months to June 1, well below what analysts had expected.
"Sales of its new BB10 devices do not indicate that the platform will regain meaningful market share," Golvin said. Analysts generally said that releasing a new Z30 smartphone later in the year with a 5-in. display and running BlackBerry 10.2 won't make a big difference for BlackBerry's fate.
There are still bright spots, even if its smartphone products are not catching on as hoped. They include the core QNX OS behind BB10, BlackBerry Enterprise Service software, numerous patents and the BlackBerry Messenger brand. "These are clearly valuable, but what's unclear is whether they all hold value as a standalone entity or as pieces," Golvin added.
Six months from now, Menezes said BlackBerry will still be making smartphones and supporting the existing ones, but he said it would be better if a buyer or partner worked with a single BlackBerry, instead of breaking its software and services side away from its hardware side and creating two companies.
Potential buyers could include Microsoft, Amazon or Dell, Menezes speculated. "There are as many guesses as people guessing," he said.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.