I came across a blog this morning that I had never read before. It’s called “The Phoenix Principle” and it’s written by Adam Hartung. Adam’s focus is on helping companies transform themselves to adjust to changing market conditions or to take advantage of technology changes. But that’s not why I dropped in on his blog. I dropped in because he wrote a post titled “Sell Research in Motion Now“.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Research in Motion (RIM) is the company behind the revolution that is known as BlackBerry. They pioneered the concept of having email on your mobile device, and they have been the unrivaled leader in smartphone sales in the US for many years…that is until the 4th quarter of 2010. In 4Q of 2010, RIM lost that lead to smartphones based on Google’s Android Operating System.
So far, RIM has been unsuccessful in adapting to the huge shift that took place in the smartphone market due to Apple’s launch of the iPhone and the App Store. Android has followed suit, and while there aren’t as many apps for Android as there are for Apple, there are now more smartphones in the US running Android than any other operating system. The smartphone world has changed radically over the last 4 years, but unfortunately for them RIM has not.
The reason I found Mr. Hartung’s article so interesting is that he is not immersed in the mobile market. Instead, he looks to help companies adapt, change, and overcome no matter their industry. As a mobile outsider he makes some of the same observations many of us inside the industry have made regarding RIM.
RIM has tried to adapt to the change in the market, but to a large extent I think they are a victim of their own success. They view their user base as rabid physical keyboard users. As a result, each of their attempts to address the changes in the market have failed.
First was the BlackBerry Storm. It was the first real attempt by RIM to produce a touch screen BlackBerry device. It was a flop in the market despite launching with what was the largest wireless carrier at the time…Verizon.
Second was the BlackBerry Torch, a touchscreen device with a sliding physical keyboard. Essentially it was a Palm Pre. Unfortunately for Palm and for RIM, this form factor was not groundbreaking enough for either to make a significant impact in the market.
Third is the newly available BlackBerry Playbook. Unfortunately, in addition to having very few apps and a small development community, you actually have to tether it to a BlackBerry smartphone to get access to BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server). Translated: you have to carry both the Playbook and a BlackBerry phone if you want to get your email, calendar, and contacts. I simply cannot see this being a success in the market either.
So what’s the deal with BlackBerry? How can they miss the shift so far and so many times? Again, I think they are a victim of their own success. They view a physical keyboard as the key to their design of devices, because their users demand it. The problem is I believe a relatively small number of their users would actually balk at a touch screen if push came to shove.
I’ve seen more than one Fortune 500 company where people are back to carrying two devices…a BlackBerry and an iPhone. That won’t go on forever. Once IT departments in large companies get used to some of the shortcomings of the iPhone in a business environment, and figure out workarounds, it won’t be the iPhone that gets turned off and left in the desk.
Nobody asked me, but if I were RIM I would keep the BlackBerry brand and continue to make the best physical keyboard phones I could. At the same time, I would launch a new brand of touch screen devices (the BoysenBerry or something), and do my best to come up with the cool capabilities that are available with iPhone and Android. But like I said, nobody asked me.
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