BlackBerry once seemed to be a good bet for mobile payments, with a large installed userbase even when iPhone and Android handsets were still considered a luxury rather than a necessity.
"In 2009 you had a lot of customers on BlackBerry that wanted to pay with BlackBerry," says Chuck Davidson, a founding member and head of product for Cardfree, a mobile payment technology company. Prior to joining Cardfree, Davidson was part of the team responsible for the successful Starbucks mobile payment app.
In 2010, after establishing the Starbucks app for iPhone users, Davidson's team chose BlackBerry instead of Android as its next platform. At the time, he said it was "pretty clear to me that I had to go to BlackBerry" because of the many office workers toting BlackBerrys on their Starbucks visits.
In the past four years, the decision to support BlackBerry has become a lot less clear, and even Starbucks no longer considers BlackBerry essential. The company dropped BlackBerry support in 2012, citing an insufficient userbase.
"You have to know who your customers are and what they are using," Davidson says today. "The merchant is the one with the finite bandwidth and budget."
About 35% of U.S. smartphone owners have an Apple device, 53% have Android and just 4% have a BlackBerry, according to a March survey consumers by Yankee Group. About 6% have a Windows device, and Symbian/WebOS and "unsure or don't know" make up the remainder.
"iOS and Android have become the de facto operating systems that mobile payments developers prioritize," says Jordan McKee, an analyst at Yankee Group. "BlackBerry is rapidly losing support in the mobile payment ecosystem and many wallet platform owners and third-party wallet operators dont support it."
BlackBerry, once so adored among large corporations that it was often called "CrackBerry," started to fall out of favor as more companies began supporting "bring your own device" programs, allowing employees to use their iPhones and Android handsets for business. Two years ago, Huntington Bank CIO Zahid Afzal told American Banker that "BlackBerry has lost it big time people are moving off it so fast it's unbelievable." (Afzal now works at Capital Bank in Coral Gables, Fla.)
Blackberry on March 28 reported a net loss of $423 million, or $0.80 per share, for the fourth quarter quarter ending March 1. That compared to a profit of $98 million, or $0.19 per share the prior year. Revenue fell to $976 million from $2.68 billion.
Many mobile wallet companies don't have a BlackBerry app.
"BlackBerry is not really a player in mobile payments," says Denee Carrington, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "That type of tradeoff, which Starbucks made with BlackBerry, is not unusual to make. A lot of companies have to decide where to invest in mobile apps, and BlackBerry often goes to the bottom of that list."
BlackBerry users could at one time access LevelUp's mobile website to obtain a QR code for mobile payments, but that access has been discontinued as part of a security update, says LevelUp spokesman Matt Kiernan in an email. SCVNGR, the company behind LevelUp, focuses on iOS and Android today, Kiernan says.
BlackBerry and did not return a request for comment by deadline. PayPal said the current version of its mobile app is not compatible with Blackberry's operating system.
As for Square, "It may make sense for us to support BlackBerry in the future, but right now we are focused on Android and iOS devices," said Lindsay Wiese, a Square spokesperson, in an email.
BlackBerry has responded to its loss in market share and accompanying loss in revenue by introducing the BlackBerry 10, and has gained some traction, particularly in its native Canada where it's used for payments by Tim Hortons and Rogers.
As a technology platform, BlackBerry is no less capable than iOS or Android, says Sandy Shen, a research director at Gartner. BlackBerry's lost ground "is less related to mobile payments but more to the general dynamics of the mobile device market where iOS and Android are two clear leaders," Shen says.
But challenges remain, particularly regarding the handset maker's brand identity. BlackBerry has been traditionally seen as more of a work device, Carrington says. Even people who carry a BlackBerry for business use favor their personal iOS and Android phones for payments.
"I was on a plane recently and saw someone who was using a BlackBerry, and was actually asked by another passenger 'You still have a BlackBerry?'" she says. "The person was using it for work. It's about the keyboard, which makes it easier to type away and do stuff for work."
This story has been updated with figures from Blackberry's fourth quarter earnings report.