T-Mobile's BlackBerry Burial


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — "Ill-conceived." "Inappropriate."

Those are just some of the heated comments from BlackBerry CEO John Chen as he fumed about the latest promotion by number four cell carrier T-Mobile that has offered at least some Blackberry toting users the opportunity to upgrade to iPhone 5S, for $500, a hefty $150 discount from the regular selling price. A "great offer for BlackBerry customers," T-Mo said in its email.

For many consumers that iPhone 5S can be had with no money down and an interest free two-year loan.

"We are outraged," Chen blogged.

Chen went on: "to T-Mobile, I would like to remind you that our long-standing partnership was once productive and profitable for both BlackBerry and T-Mobile. I hope we can find a way forward that allows us to serve our shared customers once again."

Question: if you had a Blackberry, would you take T-Mo up on this offer?

At least some BlackBerry users - fearing that T-Mobile is about to pull the plug on their devices - expressed loud anger. They were boisterous enough that T-Mo's usually pugnacious CEO John Legere meekly tweeted, "BlackBerry users, I'm hearing you loud and clear. Let me work with the team and get back with you."

He later tweeted: "BlackBerry follow up- We give our customers choices, but you don't have to give up your #loyalty. We will continue to support."

That backpedaling by Legere - who won headlines a few months ago for crashing an AT&T party at the Consumer Electronics Show wearing his trademark pink T-shirt - has not fully persuaded BlackBerry devotees that T-Mo will indeed continue to support their devices and their anger continues to flame on the Internet.

Case in point: IT consultant Jaylen Bledsoe wrote in an email to me, "I think the offer from T-Mobile was the worst possible thing a major US carrier could do to their users. With Blackberry still having a broad name among most business users, it was highly inappropriate for T-mobile to make this offer."

Angela Jones, CEO of Super Woman Productions and Publishing in Detroit, said similar: "As much as I respect T-Mobile for wanting to remain competitive against other mobile carriers, as a Blackberry user this shows a lack of faith in RIM to me. I am a Blackberry user on T-Mobile's network. I've been using Blackberry since 2008."

Bottomline for Jones: T-Mo's support for Blackberry is at best lukewarm.

Blackberry users are in pain, no doubt about it, but there also is this reality: BlackBerry is fast marching to extinction. The most recent marketshare numbers, from researchers IDC reporting on Q3 2013, show Blackberry tumbling to 1.7% of the global market, down from 4.1% in the same quarter of 2012.

Android, for the record, notched a 81% global marketshare in Q3 2013.

Particular humiliation for BlackBerry is that in Q3 Windows phone - have you ever even seen one? - bulled its way ahead of Blackberry, achieving a 3.6% marketshare, giving it a solid third place behind Apple's 12.9%.

"Blackberry is in a death spiral for devices, and with the bevy of new mobiles from competitors coming out on a weekly basis, that trend will continue," said Ritch Blasi, a senior vice president at media agency Communicano. "This marketing move by T-Mo is aimed at fostering continued subscriber growth in 2014 by attacking the large base of Blackberry customers at AT&T and Verizon."

But before you play Taps for BlackBerry, chew on this: now there is an olive branch proffered by Legere. Breaking news is that T-Mo is selling refurbished Q 10's for $384 - marked down from the $528 list price. It is available with no T-Mo contract.

Is that a flash of light amid the funeral clouds shrouding BlackBerry today?

If you say so.

IDC, by the way, forecasts Blackberry's 2017 marketshare at 1.7%. It puts Windows over 10%. Apple at 17.9%. And Android at 68.3%.

Those numbers sum it up. Blackberry's Chen has a lot to be mad about. T-Mo's discounted iPhone 5S doesn't seem high on the list, does it?

—Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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