Bad news for BlackBerry lovers: Focus may shift from smartphones to software

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CEO Thorsten Heins is stepping down and John Chen was appointed chairman of BlackBerry's board of directors and interim CEO. (AP) CEO Thorsten Heins is stepping down and John Chen was appointed chairman of BlackBerry's board of directors and interim CEO. (AP)
SummaryDevice that was so addictive that it was dubbed 'CrackBerry' might not have much of a future.

BlackBerry lovers left could be in for some bad news.

The device that was so addictive that it was dubbed the "CrackBerry" might not have much of a future: Its new chairman and interim chief executive says he wants to emphasise software and services - not devices. That could mean the company might ultimately get out of the business of selling smartphones.

The possible change in strategy comes as Fairfax Financial, BlackBerry's largest shareholder with a 10 per cent stake, said Monday it won't buy the struggling smartphone company and take it private. It said that instead Fairfax and other investors will inject $1 billion as part of a revised investment proposal.

CEO Thorsten Heins is stepping down and John Chen was appointed chairman of BlackBerry's board of directors and interim CEO. Chen, the former CEO of software data company Sybase, told The Associated Press on Monday that BlackBerry employees need to start thinking differently about the company and accept that "we're really not in phones but we're in phones for software, for services."

Chen said he wants to find a CEO with a strong software and services background.

He noted that BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry's popular messaging application, has been downloaded by more than 20 million users since it became available on Google's Android and Apple's iOS platforms in the last 10 days. BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, works like text messaging but doesn't incur extra fees.

BBM had long been one of the most popular features on BlackBerry devices and only became available on rival smartphones last month. While there are fewer users of the actual BlackBerry smartphone, BBM remains popular. Chen said there are now about 80 million active users of BBM.

"I'd like to find somebody to help me monetize that," Chen said.

Colin Gillis, an industry analyst at BGC Financial, questioned whether that's possible.

"It's like Apple saying we're going to stop making phones and we're going to become an iMessage company," Gillis said.

BlackBerry no longer provides the number of actually device subscribers, and a company spokeswoman said that number would not be "an accurate reflection of our business today."

In June, it said the total BlackBerry subscriber base was about 72 million. Mike Walkley, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity, estimates that there were about around 65 million BlackBerry device subscribers globally at the end of August, down from a peak of around 80 million at end of August 2012. He said he expects

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