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Blackberry CEO says he's more confident smartphone maker can be rescued

BlackBerry CEO John Chen delivery a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 13, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Achmad Ibrahim

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BlackBerry CEO John Chen delivery a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 13, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Achmad Ibrahim

BlackBerry chief executive John Chen says the chances of the smartphone maker surviving have improved and he now puts the odds at 80 per cent.

After more than half a year in the leadership role, Chen offered the more optimistic view for the future of the Waterloo, Ont.,-based technology company while speaking at the Re/code technology conference in California.

Previously he'd placed the odds of survival closer to a 50-50 chance.

"I am quite confident that we'll be able to save the patient," he told the conference late Wednesday.

Chen was hired last November to shake up the struggling BlackBerry (TSX:BB) operations after his success in turning software company Sybase into a profitable operation focused on mobile business technology.

While he concedes BlackBerry still has a lot of problems, he said the company isn't dead, even though some outside data suggests more trouble ahead.

New figures released by research agency International Data Corp. on Wednesday suggest the company's presence is dwindling, with market share expected to drop below one per cent this year.

Handset shipment volumes are also projected to tumble nearly 50 per cent to 9.7 million units, the IDC report said.

Despite the fading popularity of BlackBerry phones, the handset business is still a priority, Chen said, even though he's not emotionally tied to keeping it alive.

"I'll be able to create a lot of value for our shareholders even without the handset business, but I think with the handset business there is a chance to even create more," he said.

"I know a plan to make money on the handsets and the market will have to tell me whether that's a business I should or should not be in."

Asked by conference moderator Walt Mossberg whether BlackBerry plans to make handsets with the Android operating system, Chen declined to comment.

However, he also didn't rule out the possibility of reaching a deal with Google to support Android, which runs on popular devices like the Samsung Galaxy phones and the HTC One.

"If there's enough money on the table then maybe we'll do something about that," Chen said in a video of the conference posted on the Re/code website.

Another question focused on the perceived lack of interest around the BlackBerry Messenger chat app in North America.

BlackBerry stated earlier this year that more than 85 million users have BBM on their phones now that it's available on iPhones and Android devices. The company has wanted to make the chat service profitable through sponsorships with brand names and by launching a new BBM Shop that deals in virtual goods.

However, Mossberg pointed out that his anecdotal evidence suggests BBM isn't that popular.

"I don't know a soul that uses it," he said to some audible laughter from the audience.

Chen defended the BBM service saying that it's meeting the company's expectations.

"We have a lot of Android users. Less so on Apple," he said.

"It's less pervasive in North America. It's very pervasive in South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil. Those countries."

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