In the past week, BlackBerry shares have risen more than 11 percent based on the Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp and a deal to feature its messaging system on Windows-based phones, and another deal—at Microsoft's expense—with Ford Motor Co., which reportedly chose BlackBerry's QNX for its future in-car "infotaintment" system.
Investors are buying into BlackBerry—hedge-fund activist Dan Loeb of Third Point recently purchased a 2 percent stake in the smartphone maker—but the exact story they are buying into is less clear.
"The CEO is making all the right moves. ... You can't bet against this guy," said Andrew Left of Citron Research, a stock research firm arguably most notable for its bets against companies—Citron was among the most vocal short sellers of Chinese reverse-merger stocks a few years back.
All the right moves for BlackBerry, at least lately, is pulling the guts out of its devices. Chen's strategy for BlackBerry's future focuses on four pillars: handsets, enterprise, QNX (the OS reportedly picked by Ford) and BBM (the messaging service that has now been linked to the $16 billion Facebook paid for mobile messaging service WhatsApp).
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Chen said, "[This] doesn't mean we are turning our back on the consumer—far from it—but it's important we narrow our focus on our core strengths ... with the strong confidence that we will rebuild BlackBerry for the benefit of all of our constituencies."
(Read more: An outrageous price for WhatsApp? Now hold on ...)
Bring your own BlackBerry
"BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] hurt BlackBerry quite a bit," said Infonetics mobility expert Godfrey Chua, referring to corporations starting to let employees choose iPhones, for example. But Chua said BlackBerry's enterprise system could be extended to work with numerous other mechanical devices. Given that virtually all companies have smartphones now, many are beginning to consider what else they might want to connect to their networks, such as a fleet of company cars, cash registers in retail outlets, temperature sensors in storage units or cameras in warehouses, all of which can be monitored remotely. "I think there's a huge opportunity for BlackBerry there," said Chua.
BlackBerry is even now pitching itself as a potential money-transfer service of the future, and that raises an interesting parallel, because the market in which mobile money has grown the most rapidly is Africa, which also happens to be one of the last places in the world where people still yearn for a new BlackBerry.
A recent survey by South African research firm World Wide Worx showed that BlackBerry now owns 23 percent of the cell phone market in South Africa, up from 18 percent last year. The company also owns 40 percent of the smartphone market in Nigeria, where the company recently announced its first "official" branded retail store on the African continent.
With sales there second only to Nokia, BlackBerry remains the most popular smartphone on the African continent, with 29 percent of those responding to the survey saying they plan to buy a BlackBerry next year.
Even college students have jumped on the BlackBerry bandwagon. According to another study of the South African market by World Wide Worx, 57 percent of college students own BlackBerrys, possibly because of the company's low-cost data packages and free messaging service, which make the smartphone an affordable status symbol for that age group and potentially a transition market for BlackBerry device growth as their spending power grows and BlackBerry continues to expand its upgraded devices.
(Read more: Did investors miss the message on BlackBerry?)
Given that Africa has both a burgeoning middle class and more young people than anywhere else in the world—50 percent of Africans are 19 years old or younger—a brighter future positioned around the African opportunity would seem to make sense.