Layoffs at Waterloo-based smartphone industry pioneer BlackBerry cut deep last year, with around 5,000 employees being let go. Those cuts continue into 2013 as BlackBerry undergoes what CEO Thorsten Heins called a "complex transition" earlier this month, and the latest is that 250 employees of its core R&D and new product testing facility have been let go as of earlier this week, as confirmed by Canada's CTV News and by BlackBerry itself to TechCrunch.
That number pales in comparison to some of the massive cuts that came in big batches last year, including one 3,000 person block in August 2012. Last year, however, BlackBerry reportedly told its employees that if they were working on services or projects key to BlackBerry 10, they'd mostly likely be safe. These cuts appear to be closer to the bone, however, coming as they do at the heart of BlackBerry's innovation efforts, which is why it's perhaps more worrying for the company's overall outlook than the big sweeping trimming of potentially redundant or sub-optimal departments last year.
BlackBerry is saying the change to employee count is all about efficiency, in a statement provided to TechCrunch (included in full below), but it's hard to see a big batch of layoffs so near to R&D, which should be the lifeblood of any technology company, as a good sign. Heins' strategy of cost-cutting and efficiency has helped BlackBerry manage to stay relatively strong on revenue, however, and to keep a healthy cash reserve on hand.
BlackBerry has a number of products in the pipeline, apparently, including the leaked A10 (and the somewhat unimpressive Q5), a new touchscreen flagship that's rumored to be launched later this year. But that device looks to be quite far along already; this fresh report of staffing changes begs the question of how much more new hardware we have left to see beyond that.
The full statement from BlackBerry's Lisette Kwong follows:
I can confirm on the record, that BlackBerry on Tuesday informed 250 employees of their termination in Waterloo. These employees were part of the New Product Testing Facility, a department that supports BlackBerry's manufacturing and R&D efforts.
This is part of the next stage of our turnaround plan to increase efficiencies and scale our company correctly for new opportunities in mobile computing. We will be as transparent as possible as those plans evolve.