The Tragic Downfall of Blackberry

The Tragic Downfall of Blackberry

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Remember that kid in high school who was popular, seemed to have it all, and then just disappeared? Maybe they never moved out of their parents’ house or they ended up at the local McDonald’s, taking your order whenever you stopped there on your sporadic visits to your parent’s home. That’s the kid that peaked in high school, and as bad as we feel for them that their lives ended up being extraordinarily ordinary, we secretly love that it never happened to us.

Blackberry is the kid that peaked in high school.

I had a Blackberry Pearl hand-me-down from my father when I was in high school. Just to age myself a bit, this was almost seven years ago when I began using the phone.  I absolutely loved that Blackberry. I used the phone until the end of its lifetime which ended with buttons missing, a track ball that wouldn’t roll smoothly anymore, and buttons that just wouldn’t click anymore. This was during the peak of Blackberry, just before the iPhone took over the world by storm. I still had friends who used Blackberry phones and we were all obsessed. The funny thing looking back is that Blackberry was and probably easily is still the phone I was most fond of and rarely complained about.

The full keyboard was revolutionary at the time. Honestly, you didn’t have to use T9 anymore and anyone who used to text on the old flip phones can attest to how incredibly annoying it was and how difficult to learn the process of texting was with a T9 keyboard. But the full keyboard on the Blackberry was amazing and especially because it was the QWERTY keyboard layout, only two keys per button was arguably way more awesome than three (sometimes four, we’re looking at you letter ‘s’).

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Remember this was around the time but people thought flip phones were really cool? This was the last time Blackberry stayed “trendy”.

Who cared if the camera wasn’t that great? There weren’t many other phones boasting an amazing camera. For the average Joe, we were still using Cannons and Nikons to take photos on family vacations. Remember how photography with actual cameras was still
something people did 6-7 years ago? Blackberry was taking the world by storm; “Crackberry” became a term for the phone and the dedicated user base it had built.

Before Apple created iMessage, Blackberry had BBM (Black Berry Messenger) and for those who used it, it ruled. All you needed was another Blackberry users pin and you could send them unrestricted length text messages. All around, you were just cooler by using BBM. All up until, the iPhone launched.

The first problem emerged with how small of a consumer base Blackberry was building. As for a high school student like myself at the time, I couldn’t fully utilize the features on Blackberry phones.  For your every day and business needs, Blackberry phones were the “it” phone. Getting emails on your phone and being able to confidently type responses without worrying about how awful T9 was really revolutionized what you wanted to buy. Blackberry didn’t concern themselves with other target groups- they had their niche market and they were fine. No need to try to market to anyone else, you and everyone you knew that used their phones were doing plenty word of mouth advertising. Blackberry believed in
the loyalty of their consumer base.

Then the iPhone invaded. It was a well planned surprise attack. Once the iPhone caught fire you looked outdated carrying around a Blackberry- or literally anything that wasn’t an iPhone. The camera was better, the screen was better, the user face was amazing and simple to use, and Apple convinced you that you NEEDED the phone. You may not have wanted it, but man did you need it.

The big downfall Blackberry encountered, which I would consider their kiss of death, was their nonchalance about the beginnings of the iPhone. RIM, the company that owns Blackberry, was too confident in the loyalty of their consumer base. Talk about being stabbed in the back about a million times. RIM didn’t take the iPhone seriously, didn’t consider how seriously the iPhone was going to potentially dominate the market, so they didn’t prepare. Technology changes- that’s just one of the brutal ways the industry functions. Blackberry became so irrelevant so quickly it makes your head spin if you think about it too long.

Now I can’t speak for what the top guys of Blackberry were thinking, but I can only imagine it was along the lines of, “We have made a terrible mistake.” As they sat in their offices watching their market shares tank and loyal customers abandon them.

What really sealed the fate of Blackberry and turned it into the brunt of all jokes today was not adapting their software to be downloadable on Android or Apple products. Blackberry essentially refused to give into their rivals to keep their company alive. I mean, after the kind of attack they suffered with the iPhone release, I think they valued their pride over continuing a successful business platform. Because they ultimately missed their window to adapt their software to be available cross platform, Blackberry was swallowed whole by the technology shift. They were left behind, licking their wounds as their market shares tanked drastically. Today, Blackberry has made their software available on all the main platforms but no one cares. The last time I heard of anyone using a Blackberry was about three years ago, when my friend was trying to hold out hope.

My friend bought one of the touch screen Blackberry’s the company struggled to release a few years after the whirlwind of iPhone. The phone was terrible to say the least. It was littered with random glitches, the phone would freeze quite often, and she would complain she felt left out because she didn’t have an iPhone. Her phone completely quit on her about three months into their estranged relationship, and she jumped ship to join team iPhone. Her hopes of a better Blackberry days had died, along with her phone.

Although I personally did not join team iPhone, smartphones that mimicked the iPhone were quickly making their debuts and I ditched team Blackberry as soon as I graduated high school. Thus ended my great relationship with my Blackberry Pearl and it joined the depths of all other discarded Blackberry’s.

Let’s revisit our high school analogy. I attribute the iPhone’s takeover to high school graduation. As if Blackberry crossing the stage to receive their diploma was all the time they needed to lag just enough for the iPhone to swoop in and convert almost their entire user base. And then, just like that, Blackberry became the laughing stock of the mobile world as their stocks plummeted.blackberrypearl

Try going into a mobile phone store today to buy a Blackberry. I’ll bet you’re not going to find one. The stores today are dominated by iPhone vs. Android. I’m pretty sure if you asked a sales associate if they had Blackberry you would have to google a photo and say, “I want to see this phone right here.” The looks people get when they try to buy Blackberry phones must be hilarious. You can’t download the prominent apps that lead the market today onto your Blackberry phone. This puts you behind. Makes kids feel left out in their social groups. Makes you the brunt of all bad Blackberry jokes in the office.

So now Blackberry is trying to launch the Blackberry Passport 2 (Surprise, I didn’t even know there was a Passport 1) and having it run Android Lollipop (or maybe Marshmallow depending on how long the launch takes). They’re still keeping the keyboard off the screen which I find to be a critical design flaw. The technology has evolved to on screen keyboards, so I feel that’ll be a tough sell to resort people back to this type of screen change. Then there are rumors about “Venice”, which will try to rock the design of the very undesirable slide out keyboard. Blackberry is definitely trying, but it’s unfortunate it took them this long to decide to bring their A game.

But the market is competitive, and unless Blackberry is prepared to create a phone that will blow Google and iPhones completely out of the water, they don’t stand a chance. If they had competed with iPhone from the beginning, they may have stood a fair chance in remaining relevant. Perhaps they could be like Brittney Spears- recovering from a 2007 meltdown and coming back years later with a revamped image and public persona. It could happen.

So what have we learned from the downfall of Blackberry? Don’t be stubborn- accept that in the technologically dominated world we live in now that if you don’t keep up or stay one step ahead of your competitors, you become irrelevant. You have to keep an open mind in order to keep your business alive and thriving.

Though as we all learned from that kid who peaked in high school, the further away your glory years are, the less chance you have of recreating them.

Will BlackBerry survive?

BlackBerry Z10As a former, loyal BlackBerry user, I was eager to see yesterday’s BB10 accouncement. Even though I abandoned the platform back in 2010, deep down, I’d really like to see them survive.

I didn’t watch the event first hand but spent time reading the reactions from the event. From that I read, the reaction that summed it up the best was – “meh”. In other words, BlackBerry did a good job updating the hardware, changing the software interface, and effectively catching up to others in the industry. On the other hand, it didn’t do anything to impress me either.

BlackBerry faces a lot of tough challenges on its road back to relevance. Here are just a few that stand out:

  1. Market Momentum
    This isn’t a technical term, but BlackBerry needs to find a way to use yesterday’s event to turn the market in its favor. The press and general market are down on BlackBerry, and yesterday’s event didn’t change it much. I’m not sure how BlackBerry solves this challenge, but it has to find some way to get people other than their loyal fans back on board.
  2. Cool factor
    Again, an intangible, but having a BlackBerry these days is a point of ridicule rather than pride. If I had a Blackberry five years ago, I was viewed as progressive and cool. Having a BlackBerry today labels me as old school and out of touch. BlackBerry needs to invest a lot in marketing to change this perception, and while I like Alicia Keys, hiring her as your creative director is not the answer.
  3. Retake the Enterprise
    One point that did come across yesterday is that BlackBerry still knows Enterprise. There are some nifty features that corporate IT types should love. Unfortunately, the shift to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is irreversible. Five years ago, BlackBerry could have moved the market by selling to corporate IT departments. Today they need to target the users in order to rebuild their enterprise standing. Now that people have experienced the freedom of BYOD, I doubt they’ll want to go back.
  4. Rebuild loyalty
    As a former loyal user, I’ve lost faith in BlackBerry. Sure, yesterday’s event felt great, but I’m not convinced that it wasn’t just a one time shot in the arm. I stayed with BlackBerry longer than I should have. I held out hope that they would upgrade their hardware and software to match what iOS and Android were bringing to the table. They let me down. Based on their track record over the last three years, do I really want to rely on them again? Not so much.
  5. Attract new users
    Finally, if BlackBerry wants to survive, they need to bring new users into the fold. Unfortunately, BB10 doesn’t bring enough new to the table to separate it from what’s already out there. If anything, the changes in BB10 could alienate new users. It changes many standard smartphone interactions. They’ve eliminated the home button and introduced new gestures to control the device. These improvements don’t appear intuitive. This article from mainstream tech publication Mashable is one example (The First BlackBerry 10 Phone Is Exceptional but Perplexing), and the video they took below is even more telling.

    I like bold approaches, but this may not have been the right time for BlackBerry to take big risks on the user experience.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s announcement, while well done and much needed, will not mark the resurgence of BlackBerry. I’m afraid that I stand by my 2013 prediction that BlackBerry does not survive and ends up an acquisition target before the end of the year. There are a number of larger technology companies, like Dell, HP and Lenovo, who need to grab a share of the smartphone market, and BlackBerry gives them a way in.

So I applaud BlackBerry for taking a stand yesterday, but for this former user, it was too little, too late.

(By the way, for a little trip down memory lane, Engadget put together an abbreviated history of the company. It’s well worth checking out. Click here to see it.)

Challengers are welcome, but the mobile OS war is over

The lead up to CES always brings about interesting news in the mobile market, and this year is no different. While this year is light on hardware announcements, there’s a lot of news on the software side.

Microsoft continues to invest heavily in Windows 8 in hopes of making it a viable option as a third mobile ecosystem. While they won’t be at CES, I get the feeling they will be spending lots of money around it to market and promote the product.

RIM, again passing on a presence at the show, is gearing up for the launch of BB10, a make or break moment for the company. The launch is scheduled for January 30, and while I think it’s too little too late, expect to see a lot of BlackBerry ads toward the end of the month.

Samsung continues to invest in its alternative smartphone operating systems, Tizen and Bada. While Bada has been targeted mostly at the low end, Tizen, a mashup of various Linux mobile OS efforts, is a fully featured OS targeted for the bulk of the smartphone market. Samsung has announced plans for a Tizen model in 2013, and there are rumors that the follow up to their highly successful Galaxy S3 may use it.

There are also two emerging players to keep an eye on – Sailfish and Ubuntu for Phones. Sailfish is the product of a startup called Jolla created by former Nokia engineers, and Ubuntu is an effort to bring their successful Linux OS to phones in order to create a unified mobile/desktop/server experience. If you haven’t heard of either of these efforts, you should look at these two articles  – one on Sailfish and one on Ubuntu for Phones to get their take on the mobile experience (the hands-on videos in the articles are well worth watching):
Sailfish: Here comes the First Real Alternative to iPhone and Android (from Mashable.com)
Ubuntu for Phones: Canonical announces Ubuntu for smartphones (from Engadget)

Unfortunately for these challengers, the battle for supremacy in the mobile world is over. It’s been won by Android and iOS. While I like to think that there’s room in the market for a third (or fourth) mobile OS, reality proves otherwise. Android and iOS have separated themselves from the pack, and the gap is widening, not narrowing. The leaders have too much momentum, a large base of users, and most importantly, powerful ecosystems built around their platforms. The established ecosystems have the effect of locking in existing users and acting as a powerful lure for attracting new users.

So should incumbents and startups abandon the market? I certainly hope not. Innovation will slow if the market only has two choices and will grind to halt if dominated by one.

Whether the challengers are big or small, the odds of them becoming a major player in the market are stacked against them. However, as long as more players remain in the market, the mere threat of a serious challenger will force the leaders to keep innovating, pushing their operating systems forward, and copying incorporating the coolest features of the challengers and upstarts into their platforms and ecosystems.

And in the end, that can only mean one thing – we the users will benefit.

Mobile Predictions for 2013

As year-end approaches, the web is awash in predictions for the upcoming year. Not to be left out, here are the 10 biggest mobile stories I see in 2013. If you don’t have time to read it all, the summary is that a lot is going to happen, and the mobile landscape at the end of 2013 will be a lot different than it is now.

  1. BlackBerry releases BB10, will anyone care?
    Unfortunately, RIM has missed the boat. In a smartphone market that it defined, if not created, the only ones who truly care about BlackBerry these days are its die hard fans. Everyone one else has left the building (a good writeup by Mark Suster details the exodus).  In fact, it’s getting so bad that even the NASDAQ has dropped RIM from its NASDAQ-100, not a positive sign of things to come.

    My prediction: RIM will spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to make BB10 relevant only to be forced to either sell the company or figure out how to migrate key BlackBerry features to Android.

  2. Microsoft attempts to buy their way to marketshare
    In a last ditch effort to become the third ecosystem, Microsoft will spend an inordinate amount of money trying to buy market share and even release its own branded mobile device. The question is, can the market support a third mobile ecosystem? I used to think so, but this article by Kevin Tofel has me questioning otherwise.

    My prediction: Despite spending a sum of money equivalent to the GDP of a sizable industrialized country, Microsoft will remain at less than 5% market share and enter crisis mode as their core product revenues begin to erode under competitive pressures from Google and Apple.

  3. Can Apple keep up with Android?
    Apple keeps producing the hits with the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, but how long will it last? Apple is one missed product cycle away from falling behind in the mobile market.

    My prediction: Apple’s desire to control the entire ecosystem will cause Apple’s market share to stagnate, effectively repeating what happened during the original Mac era. In fact, Android’s lead will grow as it is morphed and integrated into everything from appliances to automobiles throughout 2013.

  4. Can Nokia keep it together?
    Nokia’s market share in smartphones has evaporated during 2012 as they hitched their fortunes to Windows Phone. The slide has been so catastrophic that it has completely eroded the value of one of the most well know brands in the mobile world.

    My prediction: Look for Nokia to be taken over by one of the major OEMs, or sold off in pieces. There just isn’t enough time left for Nokia to pull out of its nosedive before it completely craters.

  5. The rise of Huawei
    Some may be asking who, but there is a giant lurking in China named Huawei who is positioning itself to be a major player in the smartphone market.

    My prediction: Huawei leverages its success at the lower end of the market in developing countries and begins an assault on markets in the US and Europe with both their entry level smartphone and surprisingly affordable high-end models that not only rival but threaten Samsung and Apple’s dominance.

  6. Amazon extends their mobile footprint
    After success in the tablet market with the Kindle Fire, Jeff Bezos and company attempts to extend their product line with an Amazon branded phone.

    My prediction: Amazon first attempts at a phone will fail, and possibly quite spectacularly, since a phone needs more than just good content to win users over. However, Amazon does not enter markets without a long-term plan, so expect a version 2 of their mobile phone in 2014 that will change their fortunes.

  7. Can phablets jump the shark?
    The move towards ever bigger phones appears to be gaining momentum with devices that are over 6 inches in screen size being prepped for release.

    My prediction: Phablets will be niche devices. Based on the usage habits of those around me, the 3.5 to 4.5″ screen size will remain the bulk of the market as it allows for the greatest portability, which is what a mobile phone is all about.

  8. Prepaid takes on contract mobile phone service
    Nearly everyone in the US gets their mobile device subsidized in exchange for a two year contract with their carrier. When you go prepaid, you ditch the contract, but have to pay full price for your phone. What people fail to realize is that you can save a lot of money by going prepaid, in some cases over $1,000 during the life of a two-year contract. It more than pays for the up front phone cost.

    My prediction: Prepaid, month-to-month service gains momentum as T-mobile looks to differentiate themselves and leads a charge to push people away from the subsidized model. I, for one, used to be a doubter but have been converted. I plan to switch my service to prepaid in 2013 when my current contract expires.

  9. Mobile web applications pull even with native applications
    Yes, this may be self-serving given our business, but this falls under the general category of “never bet against the web”. Due to limitations in infrastructure and standards technology, native apps jumped out to a sizable lead in mobile, but the gap is closing, especially over the last 12-18 months.

    My prediction: There are too many smart people focused on making HTML5 applications just as good, if not better, than native apps. Sure, native apps such as games and Instagram clones will have their place, but the majority of mobile development will begin transitioning away from native to the web. So while Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook may think HTML5 isn’t ready, there are others out there who would argue otherwise.

  10. The rise of adaptive design
    Responsive design (the ability to scale web pages to screen size) has become a commonly used term in web design. 2013 will introduce a new concept – adaptive design. Adaptive design is the transformation of a website to match the user’s context, whether they are on a laptop, desktop, tablet, phablet or phone.

    My prediction: Look for more and more websites to provide alternative experiences based on more than just screen size in 2013. Websites will also take into account things like location and user behavior to quickly serve context-appropriate content.

Bonus Story: Can Aumnia maintain a regular blog presence?
2012 has been a very busy year for Aumnia, and we were pretty lax when it came to our blog (and other social media sites).

My prediction: It’s going to be tough, but I’m going to start carving out more time to share our thoughts about the market, where we see things going, and what we’re up to during 2013. With any luck, I may even be able to average an article a week!

 

Mobile Market Wrap-up, October 4

Last week was a big week for new device releases, which seems to be happening more frequently these days.  The two most interesting cellphone releases were the T-mobile (HTC) G2 and the Nokia N8, RIM announced a tablet, and a themed Star Wars cellphone went on sale at Verizon.

The G2 is T-mobile’s follow up to the first commercial Android device, the G1. In the two years since the release of the G1, cellphones have changes radically, and the differences between the G1 and G2 are a great example of the advancements. The G2 takes advantage of T-mobile’s HSPA+ network, which allows for download speeds in excess of 20Mbps (faster than most home internet connections), and has a “stock” version of Android. A “stock” version of Android allows the Android operating system to be upgraded faster, which I have found to be a major benefit of the Nexus One that I’ve been using. I consistently get Android operating system updates 2-3 months before anyone else. The bottom line, if you’re looking for a clean Android experience and can’t get your hand on a Nexus One, the G2 is the next best thing.

Nokia also began shipping its N8 smartphone last week. While still the leader in both overall and smartphone shipments, Nokia has become all but forgotten due to all the iPhone and Android hype. It’s quite an unfortunate situation as Nokia still makes great hardware, and the N8 is no exception. However, since Nokia does not have a strong relationship with any of the major US carriers, no one has launched a major marketing initiative around the device. Unless Nokia really steps up both their marketing effort and carrier relationship status in the US, I would suspect that Nokia will continue to fade away into a niche player in the US market, which is a shame based on the quality of their hardware. If you’re seriously interested in picking up the device, your best bet is going to be to shell out the cash and buy the N8 directly from Nokia.

While I am not a huge tablet fan, BlackBerry maker RIM announced their tablet called the PlayBook last week. My first reaction was that RIM is making a huge mistake, until RIM co-CEO Mike Lazardis spoke about it. RIM is positioning the PlayBook as a companion to their smartphones targeted directly at business users. I think BlackBerry may be onto something. Businesses may be hesitant to buy employees iPads due to the level of distraction from games and apps that are available. With the PlayBook, enterprises will be given more control and the majority of applications will be business oriented. I suspect that businesses will be more receptive to buying their employees PlayBooks, which could overflow into consumer sales, much like their BlackBerry smartphone platform. In essence, I like the strategy, now it is up to RIM to execute.

In other handset news, another interesting device released last week was the R2-D2 themed Droid 2 from Motorola. Themed cellphones is an untapped market in my opinion. People are always looking for a way to stand out from the crowd, and themed cellphones are a great way to achieve it. I’m very curious to see how well these R2-D2 themed units sell. If they sell as well as I think they should, I suspect that you will see a lot more themed cellphones making their way into the market.

Finally, if you are interested in what the future holds for mobile phones, then take a look at this Mozilla video for a concept phone called “Seabird – A Community-driven Concept Phone.” Mozilla does not have any intention to build the phone, but it is clearly a sign of what is possible and what could be coming to mobile phones in the near future. I particularly like the idea of the included Bluetooth headset/mouse as well as the projectors that allow you to turn any surface into an interactive screen. I suspect that you will see phones within the next 2 or3 years with this type of technology, and I can’t wait!