The Impending (?) Death of the Blackberry - Small Screen Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS BTR Editorial

Photo by Ian Lamont.

An Editorial

The reason I fell in love with my Blackberry was very simple: Internet access, specifically for train schedules and street directions. I seem to have no sense of direction whatsoever, so when I tell you that I was lost in the world before my Blackberry came along, it’s not a riff off a cheesy love song but an unfortunately true statement. My family members in particular have mocked me for my issues trying to get from point A to point B, and while I prefer the term “directionally challenged,” I knew that little pink smartphone would never judge me. Ours was a healthy, user-device relationship: little BB would help me get where I needed to go, and I would make sure I kept it charged at all times.

Imagine my horror, then, when I began to see the first signs of deterioration in my beloved smartphone. It came on slowly –literally, the phone took longer and longer to perform simple functions and the screen often froze or, worse, a spinning hourglass would appear until I had to resort to taking the battery out and restarting my phone. I tried every treatment I knew from leaving the battery out overnight to deleting e-mails from the handset to free up memory space, but no progress. Finally, there was no more denying it, and the time had come to say goodbye to my old friend, my directional confidante–my Blackberry smartphone.

Peace out, pink Crackberry, hello, white iPhone 4! Sure, I was sad to part with my first smartphone, but that period of mourning was over as quickly as it had begun. Between the phone’s sleek design and multitude of applications (my cherished GPS directions included) I had been seduced by the latest and greatest phone Apple had to offer.* Yet, recent news reports that I’m not the only one jumping the good ship of Blackberry for the shores of Apple.

Even if you don’t understand business-ese, the numbers don’t look good for RIM, the company behind the popular business smartphone, Blackberry. What once was the company at the top percentage of smartphone market share, now has been surpassed by the Android (Google) with the iPhone (Apple) not far behind. What happened?

“What happened to the Blackberry was the iPhone,” says Leander Kahney, Editor and Publisher at CultofMac.com. “The Blackberry was a one-trick pony, really. It was more of a single function device, so was an iPod because it just played music, and the Blackberry just did email.”

Just email, however, was enough for corporate companies who Leander says were the majority of consumers and major clients for the company, RIM. “Companies used to buy them by the truckload and give them to their workers,” Kahney explains, “but their workers just started buying iPhones themselves for their personal use. They found the iPhone worked just as well for company e-mails, so they just left the Blackberry at home.”

As consumers and execs started making the switch to the iPhone, Blackberry developers knew they had to find a way to compete with Apple if they wanted to keep their hold on corporate clients. Given the popularity of Apple’s iPad and the variety of other tablets offered by competing smartphone companies, RIM decided to throw their hat in the ring and introduced their own tablet, The Playbook. Similar to the iPad, the Playbook promised users “The world’s first professional grade tablet.”

The Blackberry tablet did not take off the way RIM hoped it would, and Kahney says they should have come up with a better product rather than bite off Apple’s moves. “The Playbook just showed that they had no idea was they were doing. They made an iPad clone when they should have made a business device.”

To be fair, Kahney says that the potential was there for RIM to one-up the iPad, if only they had played to their strengths. “The only security issue is that companies are worried workers will lose the iPad, and Blackberry could have offered a product that solved that issue – perhaps with some sort of corporate tracking component,” he suggests.

Most Apple products require a trip to the IT department if you want your iPad to work within your office’s software interface, whereas Blackberry come readily equipped to support the corporate infrastructure. “They should have gone to those corporations and asked ‘What do you need from a tablet to be corporate friendly?’ The fact that they didn’t do that shows where they went wrong. They had ‘iPad envy,'” says Khaney.

If Kahney speaks from the “Team Apple” perspective, then what do other smartphone experts have to say about the state of RIM? BTR also spoke with Phil Nickinson, smartphone expert and editor of AndroidCentral.com, who agrees that Blackberry’s strong suit remains in the corporate world and feels RIM’s failed Playbook is no reason call it a game for Blackberry products.

“The Blackberry is certainly not dead. That company has produced some pretty compelling devices, and their sheer entrenchment in enterprises is what they have working to their advantage. The fact is, all that Blackberry stuff is still out there, and it’s not as though millions of handhelds are just going to disappear.”

What Nickinson and Khaney both recognize is RIM’s influence within the corporate culture; companies appreciate how Blackberry products are easily integrated with their office infrastructure. As Khaney mentioned before, anyone looking to use their Apple product with their office’s interface will have to go to their IT department, whereas a Blackberry user already knows that their handheld or tablet is was designed to work with their office’s system with minimal adjustments, if any. It doesn’t matter that the average twenty-something smartphone user with no sense of direction is made the switch from Blackberry to iPhone, because my phone is for personal use and not from a corporate account. However, as Khaney pointed out before, corporate users who switched to the iPhone for their business use did so because they originally bought it for personal use.

The dilemma for RIM and Blackberry products is really a catch-22. Due to the extreme popularity of the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products, RIM naturally must come out with a product that competes with new touchpad smartphones and tablets. However, the Playbook resembles the competition rather than challenges them, and now RIM risks losing consumers who valued their corporate-friendly products. I’ll be the first to admit that everyone has a moment in when they don’t know which way to turn, and I believe that RIM simply lost itself in a scramble to appeal to Apple elitists. It may be too soon to pronounce the death of Blackberry, but RIM should scrap their playbook (literally) and refocus on what they do best if they want to compete with iPhones.

*note: statement no longer valid after “sometime in the beginning of October”. Reference: http://iphone5release.org/apple%E2%80%99s-ios-5-being-released-to-assemblers-around-sept-23/.

Written by: Mary Kate Polanin

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