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BlackBerry Messenger for Android, iPhone delayed

Delay of at least a week comes atop layoffs, operating losses and a move by an investment firm to take BlackBerry private

September 24, 2013 03:27 PM ET

Computerworld - BlackBerry said it will be at least next week until it relaunches the BlackBerry Messenger service for Android and iOS.

The delay comes amid some drastic problems that are hitting BlackBerry, including slow smartphone sales, layoff plans and an offer by an investment firm to take the company private.

In a blog post late Monday, BlackBerry Messenger head Andrew Bocking said workers are now trying to completely block an unreleased version of the BBM for Android app that first appeared on Saturday.

The unreleased app "resulted in volumes of data traffic orders of magnitude higher than normal for each active user and impacted the system in abnormal ways," he said.

About 1 million active users of the unreleased app suddenly appeared on Saturday, and BlackBerry quickly realized that the "only way to address the issue was to pause the rollout for both Android and iPhone."

Both rollouts had been scheduled for the weekend.

In addition to trying to completely block the unreleased app, BlackBerry is adjusting the system to avoid a similar scenario down the road. "While this may sound like a simple task, it's not," Bocking said. "This will take some time. I do not anticipate launching this week."

BBM has about 60 million monthly users on BlackBerry devices and the product is considered a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for the Canadian smartphone maker.

On Friday, BlackBerry said it plans to take a nearly $1 billion write-off in its second fiscal quarter because of poor sales of smartphones, primarily the Z10, and would lay off 4,500 workers out of more than 12,000.

In August, BlackBerry created a special committee to study a possible sale of the company, and on Monday, the company announced that Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto has offered to buy Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry for $4.7 billion and take the company private. The deal is expected to close by Nov. 4.

Fairfax already owns 10% of BlackBerry shares. Its CEO, Prem Watsa, resigned from BlackBerry's board when the formal search for buyers kicked off in August.

In a statement released Monday, Watsa said that Fairfax would execute a long-term strategy at a privately-held BlackBerry "with a focus on delivering superior and secure enterprise solutions to BlackBerry customers around the world."

BlackBerry had said last Friday that it planned to focus its smartphone business on enterprise and "prosumer"-centric devices, and that its product portfolio would be cut from six to four devices.

The Z10, which first shipped in the U.S. in March, is a full-screen touchscreen phone marketed as a consumer-centric product. BlackBerry's move into the consumer market represented a clear departure from the company's long-held reputation as a provider of smartphones to business users, especially those seeking a physical qwerty keyboard.

BlackBerry attributed slow sales of devices like the Z10 to the high level of competition in the smartphone market, where BlackBerry products are pitted against many popular Android phones, such as the new Galaxy S4, and Apple's iPhone, including the brand-new 5S and 5C models.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said BlackBerry is "going through massive losses and it is unclear how long [Fairfax] can keep the company afloat with no sales and a new product [the Z10] that flopped."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter@matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed Hamblen RSS. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about Smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.



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