BlackBerry to T-Mobile: iPhone Promotions Hurt Our Feelings

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U.S. cell service provider T-Mobile emailed a promotion to its BlackBerry toting customers lasts week urging them to switch to iPhones. BlackBerry's response? A blog post from CEO John Chen chastising T-Mobile, and a warning the he was outraged.

BlackBerry outraged over T-Mobile iPhone switcher promotionBlackBerry outraged over T-Mobile iPhone switcher promotion

Mr. Chen said he didn't know anything about the promotion until it launched and wished T-Mobile had spoken with him beforehand. He called T-Mobile's customer email a "clearly inappropriate and ill-conceived marketing promotion."

"As we were never told of their plans in advance, I can only guess that T-Mobile thought its 'great offer for BlackBerry customers' would be well received," he said. "T-Mobile could not have been more wrong."

The promotion offered BlackBerry users an iPhone 5S for no money down, which could sound pretty enticing for customers looking to upgrade their current BB phone.

The promotion isn't all that surprising considering T-Mobile has dramatically scaled back its BlackBerry offerings. Currently, the company offers only BlackBerry Curve 9315 as a new phone, and the same model as well as the Q10 refurbished.

T-Mobile dropped almost all of the BlackBerry models it offered last fall after the cell phone maker announced it was leaving the consumer market to focus on its business smartphone users. Since T-Mobile's customer base is predominantly consumer oriented, there wasn't much reason for the company to continue carrying multiple BlackBerry models.

BlackBerry has been struggling to compete in the smartphone market it once dominated. When Apple's iPhone came on the scene in 2007 the smartphone market was radically changed and the big names at the time -- RIM (now BlackBerry) and Palm -- were caught off guard and couldn't compete. Palm was eventually bought by HP and has since disappeared completely, while BlackBerry has been on a downward spiral for years.

Mr. Chen is aware that his company's relationship with T-Mobile isn't what it once was, saying,

Finally, 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. 

For T-Mobile, Mr. Chen's anger probably isn't much of a concern considering how popular the iPhone is, and Android-based smartphones from Samsung and other device makers outsell BlackBerry products by a wide margin.

T-Mobile's offer may also be a warning to BlackBerry that it's done with their products and is ready to migrate paying customers to more popular -- and likely more profitable -- devices like the iPhone.

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BlackBerry has been in decline for years and isn't showing any sign of a meaningful recovery. T-Mobile offers only two BB models, and just one of those is available as a new device. Yes, there's still a market for BlackBerry smartphones, but it doesn't look like it's at t-Mobile any more.

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With Blackberry in decline, is there anything there that would make the company worth purchasing? Software, encryption, patents?


T-Mobile is just reacting to the reality: BB will be gone in a couple of years. Few, even here in Canada, are paying it much attention any more. As far as if T-Mobile should have run the promo by BB beforehand, Why? It’s really none of BB’s business if T-Mobile offers a deal on someone else’s device. Does T-Mobile tell Apple when they’re going to run a deal on a Samsung Phone? Does Verizon tell Samsung if they’re going to put LG phones on sale?

matt hickey

Geoduck: If Verizon told Samsung customers to bring in their LG for a rebate on a Samsung phone, yeah there would be a problem. T-Mobile didn’t just advertise the iPhone, they created a $0 upgrade plan specifically for BlackBerry customers, that’s where the anger comes in. Its like if Coke gave everyone a free can coke if they brought in a empty Pepsi can.


I seem to remember a few decades ago one of the soft drink companies doing exactly that and the other company just shrugged and went on. That’s business and if Chen gets his feelings hurt by it, well then he’s not made of strong enough stuff to be in a high level corporate environment. In this case, as was alluded to in the article, T-Mobile is just laying the groundwork for dropping BlackBerry completely. What’s Chen going to do, stop selling BlackBerries through T-Mobile and further cut their market share? BlackBerry is in a very bad spot. It has nearly no leverage on the providers, their market share is dropping, and supporting a third platform, BB10, is in many ways not worth the effort or cost.


As Jeff suggests, the messages here are:
Blackberry: “Hey, don’t steer customers away from us!  We’re still important to you!”
T-Mobile: “... not so much.”

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