Companies hanging up BlackBerrys

For years, the BlackBerry was the smartphone of choice among professionals seeking ironclad security features and super-fast email.

But its perch at the top of the corporate and government ladder, the cornerstone of its business and perhaps its last bastion, has begun to erode. And that's raising worries among investors and analysts that BlackBerry Ltd. may be running out of time.

A slew of businesses and government agencies have abandoned BlackBerry phones in recent months, a troubling trend for a company that has been refocusing its attention on business users after watching consumers depart in droves.

"Ultimately, we are skeptical that BlackBerry can penetrate the consumer market, and its remaining enterprise installed base is no longer large enough to drive unit sales" beyond August, Kevin Smithen, telecom analyst for investment firm Macquarie Group Ltd., wrote to investors. "We think the likely end game for BlackBerry is a breakup or liquidation at a lower price."

BlackBerry's revival efforts are being thwarted by a double whammy of workplace changes: the rise of "bring your own device to work" policies, known as BYOD, and enterprise clients' internal decisions to drop BlackBerrys in favor of iPhones, Android devices and even Windows Phones.

"BlackBerry management may have been underestimating the problem for quite some time," said Scott Thompson, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

Analysts say BlackBerry's enterprise business is especially important because it is more profitable than the company's consumer segment.

Rivals that already are beating BlackBerry on the consumer side are taking notice and ramping up their efforts to woo business users - and it appears to be working.

Last year, BlackBerry for the first time shipped fewer smartphones to the commercial segment globally than Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., according to market research firm IDC.

Several major government agencies have dumped BlackBerry devices, including the National Transportation Safety Board; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Companies are also moving on. Home Depot Inc. dropped BlackBerrys in February and instead provided executives and senior management with iPhones, a spokeswoman said. Over at Yahoo Inc., Chief Executive Marissa Mayer rolled out a new smartphone program last fall that allowed employees to choose from several devices including the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S3; BlackBerry devices were left off the list.

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