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BlackBerry not afraid to throw its mobe biz under a bus, says CEO Chen

'We are not going to go up against WhatsApp'

John Chen

Updated BlackBerry has said that it will finally consider selling off its smartphone-making business if it continues to be unprofitable.

"If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business," chief exec John Chen told Reuters in an interview*.

The Canadian phone biz reported poor sales again in its fourth quarter and full year results in March, having flogged about 3.4m phones in that final three-month period. Potential salvation in the form of its new BlackBerry 10 OS has failed to materialise, with only 1.1m of the devices sold sporting the new system and the rest of the sales coming from legacy mobes.

Chen said at the time that his company would respond to the sales by starting new production runs of older devices like the Bold, which runs on the BlackBerry 7 platform.

The CEO said today that the firm was also looking into investing in or partnering with companies that operate in regulated industries that need highly secure communications, like healthcare, financial and legal services.

"We are building an engineering team on the service side that is focused on security. We are building an engineering team on the device side that is focused on security. We will do some partnerships and we will probably, potentially do an M&A on security," he said.

"We are not going to go up against WhatsApp. We are going to be more focused on secure communications, secure messaging."

Focusing on security could be a smart move for the firm that built its business on corporate clients. Companies and individuals are more focused on security than ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden's NSA revelations, and any corporations dealing in sensitive information are likely to pay well for more secure mobes.

Chen also said that long-term plans for BlackBerry included the latest craze, the Internet of Things, and he hoped the firm could connect devices like kitchen appliances and cars to smartphones.

"We are not only interested in managing BlackBerry devices. We are interested in managing all devices that you would like to speak to each other," he said. "To achieve our dream of being a major player in machine-to-machine requires more partnerships with others." ®

Updated to add

* Surprise, surprise: Chen has claimed he was quoted out of context regarding the fate of his smartphones. "I want to assure you," he wrote on his blog, "that I have no intention of selling off or abandoning this business any time soon."

No word, mind you, on what will happen after "any time soon".

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