Simple minds are amused by simple things.— Xenocrates
|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?
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 RIMAny 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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02. RIM's Major Manufacturer has pulled out
|Celestica, RIM's BlackBerry manufacturer, has given them the finger.|
Usually, factories depend on the designers for viability. They have nothing to do if the designer doesn't submit something to manufacture. So usually, it's the designer who fires the manufacturer—not the other way around. Yet, this is exactly what happened in the case of RIM's manufacturer, Celestica. They have pulled the plug on the manufacturing line for RIM's BlackBerry devices. It speaks volumes when a manufacturer does something drastic like this.
But most importantly:
01. RIM has posted consecutive losses
Research in Motion is hemorrhaging money. They have posted two consecutive quarters of major operating losses over the past year amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. They are shrinking faster than a super giant star about to collapse into a black hole—and what a perfect analogy that is. RIM is one of the biggest manufacturers of smart phones on the planet. When the company finally dies, it'll leave an engulfing void where BlackBerry fans live.
As a result, their ridiculously late BlackBerry 10 device (which has been plagued with a number of problems) has been delayed to 2013, which is a certain sign of an imminent corporate implosion. There's no way that a BlackBerry 10 device, irrespective of whatever sophistication it ships with, could possible survive the current market domination of the Samsung Galaxy S III or Apple's soon to be released iPhone 5. Once the latter device hits the market, even Microsoft will have something to worry about. By then, RIM will no longer be a viable market contender.
It simply won't be able to compete with companies that have galloped past its design innovation (or lack thereof). Despite their efforts to launch into the realm of tablet devices (BlackBerry Playbook, anyone?) that effort too was met with critical disdain as the application interface was released half baked and unready to compete with the likes of the iPad or any tablet featuring Google's immensely popular Android platform. Where could RIM go from here?
Research in Motion has a few executive options left on the table. If there is any intelligence left on RIM's board of directors, (or perhaps even in their CEO), there are a few fast track, but certain ways (albeit, very humbling ways) to salvage the company, or alternatively save the company's investors (including themselves) from the absolute certitude of filing for bankruptcy:
Option #1: Migrate to Android OS
While this ultimately means scuttling the BlackBerry OS, it has already been compromised, and so they won't be losing anything of significance here. They will gain the marketability of the already well established open source Android Platform. They can then build support for all of their existing BlackBerry applications via a layered API on Adroid's interface. Who's done this?
Why Amazon, of course!
The Amazon Kindle Fire is fast becoming a serious contender in the tablet PC market. They have simply taken the Android OS, gutted it, branded it for Amazon, and marketed it on their own tablet with Amazon specific services. RIM could use exactly the same approach to reassert themselves in the market. The guts will be Android, but the interface is BlackBerry.
This means that not only will BlackBerry users finally be able to play Angry Birds (and many others of the like), but they still get to utilize all of the BlackBerry apps they know and love, while having the flexibility of poaching something cool from the Android Market. The migration means that RIM could save money by integrating BlackBerry AppWorld into the Android Market.
Option #2: Sell their Operations to the Chinese
Several hundred Chinese manufacturers could maintain the BlackBerry as a viable platform using the Chinese market alone. While this still means the death of the BlackBerry in the west, China is the largest viable isolated market because that's where 80% of the world's electronics are made anyway. Companies like 3Com found this out the hard way when they were acquired by their own Chinese manufacturer, H3C, after being beaten in the west by the likes of Cisco that have driven them out of business. Who has done this? Why IBM, of course!
When IBM realized that it couldn't compete with the stylized PC clones the likes of DELL, Toshiba and HP in the personal computer market, they decided to leverage their business model by migrating to the field of corporate solutions providers. This meant selling off their PC division to the Chinese manufacturer Lenovo, which already had a massive Chinese market.
By selling off their operations to the wealthy Chinese (who while being creative copycats, are not particularly innovative themselves), RIM can cover most of its operating losses, liquefy the company's assets and walk away with some money left in its pocket—probably even before having to file for chapter 11. The BlackBerry name will cease to exist, but they will put an end to their misery. Besides, the Chinese are already adept at manufacturing BlackBerry clones.
BlueBerry anyone? LOL
Am I an Android Fanboy?
|As of this writing, this is the device to beat.|
I may come off sounding like a smug Android fanboy when I say this, but the BlackBerry platform only survived this long because simple minds are amused by simple things. Apps like BlackBerry messenger have given a large portion of RIM's user base the narcissistic delusion that better couldn't possibly exist, since better in BlackBerry fan speak equates to "because everybody has one". Well, clearly, not everybody. I've never owned a BlackBerry anything. Ever.
Ironically, despite the paradoxical drivel of the petty minds who still swear by BlackBerry that manifests itself as cognitive dissonance about the imminent demise of their favourite smart phone manufacturer, the Android and iOS interfaces are much simpler to operate. In fact the iOS is hands down the easiest mobile platform operating system to use—bar none. That's fact.
Wait, that doesn't make me an Android fanboy, does it? Why would an Android fanboy commit blasphemy by openly declaring that Apple has a better user interface (though not necessarily a better operating system) than the Android? Well, because I would like to consider myself an impartial observer, having never owned either an Apple or Android device myself—wait, what?
I'm actually a Nokia fan
|The Nokia N900 (2009) — One of the best devices to ever come out of Nokia in the past.|
Yes, you read correctly. I have never owned a modern smart phone (and by modern, I mean circa 2010). I am still currently toting around a Nokia N900. It uses the now mostly defunct Maemo platform (a derivative of Linux). I only bought one because the Sony Ericsson W810 that I bought in 2006 could only handle WAP websites and I needed a smarter phone that could handle standard HTML on the go, preferably with a slide out keyboard (as I type with it).
Considering the ridiculous expense I paid for that device (a whopping $500 USD), I cannot possibly fathom spending more money for a device that costs more than an intermediate grade laptop or a standard business grade PC that has a fairly comparable processing capability. Although, most people would prefer to buy a luxury motor car for a considerable price, even though a pickup truck at one third the price is more sturdy, lasts longer and is cheaper to maintain. So I can totally see how that paradoxical propensity carries over to smart phones.
This doesn't mean that I wouldn't buy Apple. I bought an iPad for my friend who is a medical doctor. She uses it instead of walking around with large binders of patient files. The iPad has proven itself to be an invaluable asset for doctors. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't buy an Android. Since the web has effectively changed, my Nokia N900 doesn't handle HTML5 well. Therefore, an upgrade is imminent. I'm just trying to stave it off as long as humanly possible.
So I'm going to overclock that bad boy until it breaks.
|Can you believe a new smart phone these days is more expensive than this?|
No one arbitrarily drops $700 on a 4.7" smart phone, when a 9.7" iPad costs $500 and a 10.1" Asus Transformer Ultra 700T (with optional keyboard dock) costs the same as a Samsung Galaxy S III. Either way, while this article will ultimately become outdated by September, 2012, I can safely say that I will not be buying a BlackBerry to replace my Maemo device. If I would cringe to spend $700 on a smartphone that is worth it, why would I do so for one that is not?
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■ E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com