BlackBerry is simply running out of options to save itself.
The long-delayed Blackberry 10 operating system was meant to be the smartphone maker's savior, but sales have sorely disappointed. That has prevented BlackBerry from resurrecting its once-dominant position in the smartphone market, which has dwindled quickly as Apple, Google and even Microsoft ( overtook the company. )
Given that miserable state of affairs, BlackBerry's board of directors announced Monday that it is considering "strategic alternatives" to boost the company's value and sell more smartphones. The problem: None of those options is necessarily viable.
Sell the company outright. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has said for months that the company would potentially be open to a sale, but putting a "for sale" sign in the window doesn't guarantee anyone will make an offer.
Not so long ago, Microsoft ( and Lenovo were frequently floated as likely candidates to make an offer for BlackBerry. But today, BlackBerry's sinking-ship smartphone business would almost definitely rule out a full sale of the company. )
In a note to clients Monday, Macquarie Securities analyst Zach Horat declared himself "skeptical that potential strategic buyers ... would assign any value" at all to BlackBerry's ( hardware business. )
License the software. If BlackBerry's smartphones themselves are a deal-killer, peeling off the company's software business could help to gain interest from a number of buyers. BlackBerry's brand has lost consumer cachet, but it still holds a strong reputation for corporate security.
In addition to secure email, BlackBerry offers several multi-platform security solutions. Secure Work Space allows iPhone and Android users to toggle between personal and corporate modes, and Mobile Fusion lets corporate IT staffers manage different mobile devices through a single interface.
Even if a full company sale didn't pan out, BlackBerry could decide to become a software-only company, launching corporate-focused apps that work on Apple's ( iOS and )Google's ( Android devices. )
But for now, BlackBerry doesn't appear willing to consider dropping hardware. Just a few weeks ago, on BlackBerry's most recent earnings call, Heins said customers look at the company as "an end-to-end solution, including the device."
Nomura analyst Stuart Jeffrey doubts Heins' attitude has changed.
"It seems that management retains its focus on sustaining its own operating system / platform and is not yet willing to transition to a hardware-free solution," he wrote in a note to clients on Monday.
Go private. Taking the company private could change that. Without those pesky shareholders around, BlackBerry could have the freedom to become a software company.
"We believe that this would be a difficult and painful transition and one that might be best suited to a company that is private rather than publicly listed," Jeffrey wrote. Once completed, however, he said BlackBerry should be able to become a highly profitable business that could make the company an attractive acquisition target.
But going private is expensive business, and it's unclear who would be willing to finance such a massive overhaul of the company.
Horat, the Macquarie analyst, scoffed at the idea, noting BlackBerry would have mentioned a go-private proposal already if it had a viable idea.
Peddle the patents. Another non-hardware bright spot for BlackBerry is its trove of valuable smartphone patents. Its portfolio would give any buyer a massive advantage in the competitive and highly litigious world of smartphones -- just look at the never-ending Apple v. Samsung lawsuits.
But that would be tantamount to giving up. With $3.1 billion in cash on hand and a growing presence in the developing world, BlackBerry just isn't there yet.