I remember using a Blackberry for the the first time. My boss at the time was driving to meet a client, and I was riding shotgun. Of course, he had no idea where he was going, so he handed me the blue device and said "look in my email, you'll find their phone number". Without fear, I found the little thumbwheel thing did just what I expected. A big block moved up and down and pointed to just what I needed. The device was more intuitive than I could have imagined. Even when it came to opening a browser to find the elusive phone number, then just clicking the link to call it. I needed no instruction. It just worked. So, dear Blackberry makers, Research in Motion (RIM), what happened?
I'll admit that I remember that first Blackberry use more vividly than other tech experiences. So I understand why people (especially salesmen, bored in airports) got hooked. The 'crackberry' was addictive. People needed them. So what changed? It certainly wasn't the Windows Mobile devices, which looked similar, but had the intuitiveness of a brick.
Well, the Appboy blog claims that you can blame the late, great Steve Jobs, not for changing the mobile market (at least not in this context), but for being the presenter and imperfect idol that he was. He just set the bar too high for RIM executives. His flair and presentation, his innovation, just made it impossible for a little accidental success like RIM to survive. Certainly an interesting take on it, and a scathing judgement of the new CEO.
Then of course, there is the likelihood that there were Blackberry users who wanted a big screen device (those were the days when mobile phones were getting smaller, not bigger) that felt solid and real. They weren't Blackberry fans though, and quite easily were taken by the bigger screen iPhone. Close to useless for business people in its initial form, with poor email support, virtually unusable calendar and a single mobile carrier (AT&T) unable to manage the load. So the few accidental Blackberry users who didn't really care about corporate email moved to iPhone, the masses moved to iPhone and the mobile market changed beyond recognition.
But, Blackberry should still have had a grip on the business market. It had infrastructure to support them, and an apparently intimate knowledge of how their users could make subtle shifts of their thumbs to control their electronic world. No repetitive strain inducing swiping a whole hand to scroll through your email. Typing in a moving car on potholed Boston roads was possible with a real raised keyboard (as long as you weren't driving). But still RIM lost the plot.
A touch screen Blackberry was a nice idea, though you couldn't exactly type in a car any easier than an Android. The Playbook was just stupid branding in my opinion, and apparently it didn't have a native email client, so it wasn't really a Blackberry, just a toy for the kids of Blackberry owners. It touted that it had support for Flash, just as Adobe announced that it was going to scale back development of Flash on mobile devices. Bad luck, or bad planning?
If RIM is to survive, seven minute monologues by the new CEO is not going to save them. Neither is another Playbook. As Appboy said, innovate, innovate and innovate some more. Hell, make a tablet called a Workbook with real email support. That's your market, so stop trying to expand out of the one you've got when you are barely keeping a grip on it.
I have to say, good luck to RIM. There will be disaster in corporate IT if you go away. Many people rely on getting their email through your servers. If the company goes, the infrastructure goes, and that possibly makes the devices instantly obsolete. Don't panic!
A post from the Improving It blog
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