Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Imminent Death of The BlackBerry

Simple minds are amused by simple things.


Umm.. aren't these all basically the same device?

While I always understood the appeal of having a smart phone, I never understood the appeal of having a BlackBerry when smarter smartphones exist. While I totally understood why RIM's BlackBerry devices got so popular, I never quite got why RIM's BlackBerry devices stayed so popular for so long. It should come as no surprise that the most overrated things are enjoyed by the most underwhelming people. Yet, now that RIM's demise is imminent, I can't help but be genuinely surprised that anyone is actually surprised that RIM is about to die.

No, really; you didn't see that coming?


Research In Motion?

I remember when the first BlackBerry devices came out in 2002. As simple as they were, they took the concept of having a personal organizer, (a concept previously dominated by the now defunct PALM company) and integrated it with the functionality of a fully featured cellphone with mobile e-mail access. This combination made the BlackBerry a force to truly contend with.

But that was then. This is now.

Usually when a technology company fails to innovate in lock step with the industry, they ultimately bite the dust. While Nokia was innovating with everything (plus the kitchen sink) RIM failed to substantially innovate with the BlackBerry as how everyone else did after the first iPhone came out. Apple completely changed the game with their hotter iPhone experience.

RIM failed to follow the new leader—perhaps out of genuine hubris. Maybe they thought customer loyalty was enough. Clearly they thought wrong. By the time they decided to join the rest of the gang and become an iPhone wannabe, the BlackBerry Torch was released in 2010 to a resounding thud. It was too little, too late. It would be ideal in 2008. Samsung's Galaxy S was already that awesome, and then some—and yet it came out two months earlier.

Do you see how utterly ridiculous that is? BlackBerry was still releasing resistive touch screen interfaces when everyone else had already migrated to capacitative screens. BlackBerry was still releasing devices with a half screen keyboard when all of the other major manufacturers had migrated to full panel touch screens. In motor car terms, that is like releasing a 2002 Honda Civic in 2012 in hopes that it can compete with a 2013 BMW 3 series—totally ridiculous!

This gives serious doubt to the name of the company. For if one is to assume that they are indeed the bastion of research in motion, then with the spate of near identical BlackBerry devices that came out one quarter after another from 2008-2010, it was pretty clear that their Research In Motion had slowed down to a dead crawl—and I think their arrogance is to blame.

If you are a BlackBerry aficionado, you will do well to start reading the writing on the wall. The company made massive losses recently. Their board members are resigning—and now one of their chief manufacturers has pulled the plug on their production line. If this isn't enough for you, then I'll give you ten pretty good reasons why you should probably ditch your BlackBerry:

10. Nobody is going to buy RIM

Any rumor you've heard to the contrary is false. Microsoft has invested heavily in Nokia to carry the Windows Phone platform. Google has acquired Motorola's platform. Apple is already pretty damn good at its own platform. Samsung has it's own hardware and is invested in Android. There really aren't any other contenders out there that are big enough to swallow RIM's debt to make it viable again. Even if there were, there's still the imminent phenomenon known as:

09. Platform Standardization

Even Symbian is outperforming RIM at this rate.

In case you haven't noticed, Nokia has ditched their Symbian platform. Samsung does better on Android than their Bada platform. Microsoft is putting all of its eggs in the Windows Phone and Google's Android is leaving Apple's iOS in the dust. See the graph above. If you are not speaking one of these three languages (Android, iOS or Windows Phone), then you are out.

08. BlackBerry Torch < iPhone v. 1

This should have been released in 2008, not 2010.

The only way to get all googly eyed at any of BlackBerry's Torch devices is to have been living in a cave for the last 5 years (as of this writing). The Torch's capacitative touch screen is not even remotely as responsive as Apple's first iPhone. The reason why people have been migrating from RIM is that they can get BlackBerry like services on phones with a silkier user experience. The BlackBerry torch is thus a slap in the face. It is an insult to one's intelligence.

If you didn't feel insulted, then that's probably because:

07. BlackBerry only performs well in isolated markets

The Android OS is currently the dominant platform in the US.

If you are living outside of the United States, I can understand your cognitive dissonance. BlackBerry has been on the decline internationally since the iPhone debuted in 2007. Due to Apple's draconian end user policy, the iPhone platform hasn't taken off as rapidly in smaller, isolated markets like the Caribbean, southern Europe and much of Central and South America as it has in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and many developed Asian markets.

With that said, the BlackBerry will still prove to be many times more economically viable in these smaller, less sophisticated markets where technologies such as 4G LTE designed for next generation smart phones are still comparatively more expensive per end user than competing BlackBerry plans. This is primarily due to a lack of economies of scale for newer devices. Newer devices tend to be more expensive. Customers in isolated markets can hardly afford them—unless the service provider has incentive to make a market push for the devices.

This means that:

06. Isolated markets have slow adoption rates

By the time Apple's iPhone takes off in the third world, Android will have been ruling the smartphone market for the better part of 5 years. This was the same situation with Nokia's Symbian platform in the third world up until 2007, when BlackBerry devices first flooded these markets, although the BlackBerry was already the top smartphone from 2003 in market share.

However, because of platform standardization, the big names in smart phone manufacturing (namely, Samsung, Apple, Nokia, LG, Sony Ericsson and several others) will not pander to the interest of smaller, isolated markets. They can risk losing every customer in a smaller market like the Caribbean without making a significant dent in their bottom line. That's why Apple hadn't leveraged their iOS devices outside of the United States and Europe until very recently.

Due to their much smaller size, isolated markets adopt new technology much too slowly to be worth an aggressive pursuit when the manufacturing company pushes out a new version of the device every year. This  is why companies like Apple, Samsung and Nokia could care less if BlackBerry is the dominant device in these smaller markets that are just a drop in the bucket.

However, nobody in the third world notices until 4-5 years later due to point 7 above. This means that smart phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 will be in these smaller, isolated markets as the BlackBerry was five years ago. Until the service providers move wholesale to Android or IOS devices, BlackBerry patronage will remain fair—but not for long. Why? Because:

05. Support will eventually disappear

With the imminent collapse of RIM, so will the underlying support for the platform. The trouble is, if you're in one of the isolated markets and you're a service provider, you will be forced to make a wholesale market push for Android and IOS devices in order to remain viable. Why would a service provider need to switch to remain viable? Because no new customers will be buying BlackBerry devices. Telecoms providers can't grow unless customers buy new devices.

This will come down to a business decision. When RIM finally files for Chapter 11, their support services will only remain for another few years to support a graceful implosion of its service re-sellers. It doesn't matter in which market the re-seller exists; whether it's a cash cow market like the United States or an isolated market like the Caribbean. Once international support for the platform goes, so will customer incentive to buy new phones. Why is this? Simply because:

04. Software developers will withdraw from the platform

If a platform's major manufacturer is in decline, developers of new software for that platform are less likely to support it. It makes no sense for developers to continue to build for legacy platforms like Symbian because it is in decline. If it is in decline, they will have fewer customers. It therefore makes more business sense to support the platforms that are on the rise. Due to the platform standardization currently occurring in the smartphone market, it means that only Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows Phone will get most of the developers' love.

This further means that:

03. The BlackBerry OS will become obsolete

Many people assert that one of the key selling points with BlackBerry devices is its backward compatibility across the varied implementations of the device. This is ultimately irrelevant, since backward compatibility is functionally dependent on user support. User support is predicated on developer support. However, if there is no developer support for the operating system on the device, then there's very little reason to continue selling the devices—is there?

When Apple's iPhone launched in 2007, it changed the paradigm for smart phones because of the ridiculously vast array of applications available for it. Hundreds of thousands of developers (many of them BlackBerry developers) migrated wholesale to the iOS platform simply because of what it is capable of doing. This is why Angry Birds was so late to the BlackBerry platform.

Newer versions of the BlackBerry OS have probably implemented the libraries needed to get some of the more advanced iOS and Android apps to cross platforms, but who will care about a next generation version of the BlackBerry OS when the vast majority of the market has already invested heavily in iOS and Android? Newer BlackBerry versions are already obsolete!

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E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com


  1. The sad part is, the CEO of RIM came out a few weeks (if not months) back and said that he will not go to the Android platform. When he said that I realized that there was literally no future for rim, leadership like that cant possibly lead a company into the future. Especially since the Google people have been hinting so long that they are willing to adopt the BB platform, all they have to do is say when.

    I personally think there is a 3rd way to stave off their impending demise (although at the moment it may be too late), and that is to simply become a software company. RIM has alot of good secure technologies that they developed, that's the reason why companies and even governments still stand by them (though they are all leaving at the moment). If RIM decides to simply forget about manufacturing devices and focus on licensing their software to the major players in the mobile market, then they stand to make bucketloads of cash. Especially since the people who currently use BB services wont have to worry about all the money required to upgrade everything and switch over, they would only need to worry about procuring devices.

    However due to the fact that as I said these companies/governments are already moving to IOS and Android platforms... this solution may just be too little too late.

    I had fun with BB though, I owned 3 BB devices before I realized that its just a messenger and serves no other purpose whatsoever and moved to Android which has been making me happy. I sincerely hope somebody picks up at least the messenger part of the BB ecosystem, because up til now nobody has really ever made such a perfect mobile messenger. Whatsapp, ChatOn, Touch, all of them still pale in comparison to how good BBM really is.

  2. Platform standardisation is a bad thing, imagine if all cars were made by the same manufacturer, yeah parts would be cheap but everybody would be driving around in a tank. Android OS is a Java based platform and is only popular because they release the same phone multiple times with old versions several times a year. Not to mention that Android OS is not making the best use of the hardware, it has to keep updating to fix performance bugs. I would see windows phone dieing before BBOS. And iphones not taking off in third-world nations because serious that shit is expensive and does not do much to improves one's life.

    1. Owen,

      Most cars use the same internal parts from the same handful of manufacturers. Most commercial aircraft (whether Boeing or Airbus) use the same Mercedes Benz engines and Lockheed Martin fuselages. Most computers use the same two microprocessors (AMD/Intel). Most graphics cards use the same two chip designers (ATI Radeon / nVidia GFX).

      Platform Standardization is a good thing. It keeps performance consistent and you always know what you're getting.

      As for Windows Phone dying before BBOS — don't kid yourself.

      Also, Android is popular because it employs the same marketing strategy that Apple used. Nothing more, nothing less. You also cannot make any claims about "best use of hardware" until you've seen what manufacturers have done with the Android OS for their devices. Android is highly customizable. Therefore that best use of hardware argument is not quite true.

      iPhone is no less expensive than BlackBerry. The affordability factor is driven by the service provider — not the MSRP. Once the service provider migrates to iOS wholesale, the platform will achieve economies of scale, thereby making them affordable.

  3. This is an interesting article as I have also never owned a Blackberry, I have used many but never owned I have always found the platform a bit boring and I was more excited about the N900 when it came out but unfortunately I was not in a position to purchase it at the time being in University with no job. I should tell you this I am from Jamaica (still living here) and I can totally understand the slow adoption that you are talking about, but believe me the newest and hottest devices find their way here in roughly the same time that they are released in the US sometimes before, the main fault is that yes there are some who are definitely behind the tech curve and there are many of us who keep up with all the news and newest innovation our major issue is that we have two telecom companies that have hopped on the blackberry bandwagon and refuse (until recently that is) to acknowledge anything else LIME which has had HSDPA services for about two years now has been there but in very small pockets of the island meanwhile Digicel who just a few days ago rolled out HSDPA+ services and are now pushing the line of Samsung Android devices including the S3 and the S2, things are looking up for Jamaica s many are now ditching their Blackberries and moving to IOS and Android, I have a friend who is a BB Loyalist openly tell me that he was sick of it and going to get an Iphone 4S..........that is until he used the S3. I don't know about the Other Caribbean Islands but I know that Jamaica is moving forward and we are not as isolated as you might think the only thing slowing down mass adoption is cost of handset as the carriers do not subsidize their cost nor offer and real good handset deals for higher end devices and if you still have furthur doubts check out and check out what we have been discussing