Table of Contents Hide
Though still successful, Blackberry is no longer the must-have gadget for the mobile crowd. What do they need to do to reclaim their position of leadership?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, to own a Blackberry wasn’t to simply own a smartphone – it was to possess a symbol. Carrying around a Blackberry meant you were a successful, busy person, often ahead of the curve and definitely on top of your game.
Oh my, how times have changed.
While you could hardly argue that Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry, are doing poorly, it would be equally mistaken to say Blackberries are still the symbol of success they used to be. Despite the fact that their market share is actually up, after the arrival of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS, new platforms have taken over the Blackberry’s position as the latest-and-greatest mobile technology in most people’s minds.
But with Blackberry widely expected to make an announcement regarding their future at the Wireless Enterprise Syposium, many are hoping for big things. And with the consumer market being the most fertile ground for smartphone growth, Blackberry just can’t come out with something merely ‘good’ – it has to be seriously impressive and aimed at as wide an audience as possible.
A Touchscreen-Physical Keyboard Combo
Touchscreens are the future – this much is indisputable. The adaptable nature of the interface, coupled with intuitive gestures like swiping and pinch-and-zoom represent a significant step up from the clunky, hard-to-use interfaces of early smartphones.
That said – I’d rather drag my naked body through a mile of broken glass than type out a full email on my iPhone. Sure, you get better at it after a while. Sure, it’s okay for short text messages. But typing on a touchscreen is not only frustrating, it just can’t compare to the speed and responsiveness of a tactile keyboard.
The keyboard has always been Blackberry’s strength. Combining that with a touchscreen, whether in a slider or a model shaped like the Bold, allows the best of both worlds and will allow Blackberries to maintain their practical reputation with the business crowd while challenging Apple and Android for usability and slickness.
Also, RIM? The clicky-screen of the Storm doesn’t count. We’re talking about a responsive touch screen and the classic Blackberry keyboard. Do it. Do it now. Seriously.
A New Web Browser
Let’s face it: even if you hate everything about Apple, the iPhone changed what we could expect when it came to mobile browsing. While the limited memory and lack of flash means it isn’t quite a desktop-quality experience, it’s light years beyond what we got in the past.
But Blackberries have failed to keep up. While the browser in OS 5.0 was a definite improvement, ultimately it just wasn’t as compelling as the browser on the iPhone or in Android, again because not all Blackberry’s had touchscreens.
To improve, RIM need a new browser built from the ground up, hopefully using Webkit (the same base used for both Safari and Chrome), with an emphasis on both speed and compatibility. It must render things quickly, correctly, and with the wind blowing in the direction of HTML5, it must support that too.
And if there were some magic way to implement Flash without overly draining performance and battery life, that would be amazing – but that’s probably just wishful thinking.
An Improved Media Player
The days of carrying a separate phone and MP3 player are coming to an end for all but the most committed audiophiles. But the current Blackberry music interface still remains clunky, and is yet another aspect of the operating system that would vastly improve with an emphasis on both touchscreens and their usability. What little we’ve seen of Blackberry OS 6.0 looks promising in this regard, but this needs to remain an area of constant attention for RIM because it’s just where things are headed.
Half the battle here is that a slick media player means you not only expand your market to tech-savvy youngsters with cash to burn, you also cement your status in the tech world’s mind as a contemporary, media-savvy player. This is about more than simply making your phone usable – it’s about making it cool.
Blackberry App World Needs Some Pizazz
Speaking of being cool….
Part of the reason that Blackberry seems to have lost some cachet is that their App World just doesn’t stick out in people’s minds as the place for neat, cool, fun apps. Though there has been a thriving app development market long before anyone had even heard of an iPhone, Blackberry’s platform has fallen behind even the very new Android Market.
To fix this, RIM should do two things. First, commission and fund the development of a few high-profile applications to raise the status of the platform. Facebook, Foursquare or Evernote, though good already, would all be great candidates that would benefit from some RIM input and the benefits of touch screens. After all, joint development means that you can use them in your marketing, which would be a huge plus.
Secondly, pick up some newer, up-and-coming mobile app developers and encourage them to create innovative, ‘fun’ apps to appeal to a younger, social crowd. If Blackberry is to be seen as more than just a corporate entity, it needs its own signature apps, not simply ports from iPhone OS or Android.
It’s a sad fact, but RIM just aren’t very good at selling themselves to the broader public, and it’s a major weakness. And as Palm has proved with the Pre , a strange marketing campaign can kill an otherwise decent device – and the impressive success of Motorola’s Droid proves the inverse of that equation too.
The fact is that more and more consumers are moving to smartphones. If RIM wants to capture some of the mindshare currently occupied by Apple and Google, what it needs is not to simply sell the virtues of its devices, but needs to appeal to them by appealing to their vanity and their desires. It’s not pretty, but every successful company – particularly Apple – has done this to great effect.
Play to Your Strengths But Don’t Rest on Them
Looking at the current numbers, Research in Motion’s business is doing quite well. But you can only lose mindshare among the general population for so long until you start to become irrelevant. Go ask Palm about this.
In order to recapture their position as market leaders, what RIM need to do is to build upon their existing corporate success by continuing to add consumer-friendly features with a greater emphasis on media and apps.
The Pearl and Bold were a decent start. But if RIM want to cement their future for the next decade, they need to start thinking about interfaces and usability. A touchscreen-tactile keyboard combo is a great mid-point between business and consumer interests, while better media functions and a more appealing App World are ways to appeal to a younger crowd. Factor in more social-media friendly apps and a committment to innovation, and RIM could not only stave off the immense challenge presented by Google and Apple, but succeed in the face of it. Additionally, with Nokia’s once dominant Symbian fading quickly, a huge gap will open up in the market.
And who other than RIM, perfectly situated between ‘Wall St. and Main St.’, is better positioned to pounce?