Who Won The Mobile Tech Olympics?

Business is a combination of war and sport. ~ André Maurois

The Long Summer Of The Microsoft Monopoly Olympics

Computing was pretty simple for the last 15 years: PC plus a browser. Both are splintering now. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

Once upon a time — long, long ago in 2006 — the Personal Computing Olympics used to be oh-so-simple. First off, you weren’t even invited to the games unless you were bosom buddies with Microsoft. And almost everybody who attended got a medal (but Microsoft took home most of the Gold, if you know what I mean). It was the long summer of Microsoft and we thought that it would never end.

Then along came Mobile. Mobile changed the game as radically as if the Olympics had switched from Summer Games to Winter Games. The world of computing was turned on its head and it would never be the same. Oh, Microsoft tried to play in the new Mobile Winter Olympics, but they were ill prepared. Surprisingly in foresight, but unsurprisingly in hindsight, the new Winter games left them cold.

One Olympics, Two Champions

So much for the old Olympics and the former Olympian. Let’s turn our attention to the New Mobile Winter Olympics and the question of who won them. The answer? Well, it depends upon the question you ask.

It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question. ~ Eugene Ionesco

You see, the Tech Olympics — just like the real Olympics — are divided into two very different types of games:

    1) Subjective Games that are judged by a panel of judges — like Ice Dancing and Half-Pipe; or

    2) Objective Games that are determined by clocks, tape measurers and other quantifiable metrics — like Speed Skating, Downhill Slalom and Ski Jumping.

So who won the Tech Olympics — just like who won the real Olympics — depends on how you score the games. Are you judging based on how the market responded or how the press responded or are you judging based upon objective measurements? Two very different ways to measure. Two very different types of winners.

The Subjective Olympics

And the medalists in the Subjective Olympics are:

Gold: The Google and Android twins walked off with the Couples’ Gold Medal. The Judges raved about their mobile acumen and no one else even came close to matching their exquisite market share.

Silver: Samsung came in a very strong second for the Silver Medal. Some argued that they should have won it all, but Samsung was all strength, no subtlety; all power, no grace. Four years ago, no one even expected that Samsung would be at the games, so they should be grateful just to be standing on the (Android) platform.

Bronze: And the Bronze goes to Amazon, of course. True, Amazon did not have a particularly productive Olympics. They over-performed in revenue, but under-performed in profits. But none of that really mattered to the Judges. Amazon’s coach was brilliant, their business model dazzling and their potential awe-inspiring. The Judges awarded the Bronze to Amazon not on merit but because it was clear to them that Amazon was destined for greatness.

Off The Podium: Apple? As if! Pushed off the podium altogether. All sorts of glitzy performances, but they only entered a few, select events, they had the smallest team at the Olympic Village and they could muster only a paltry market share, to boot. On the whole, a most disappointing performance.

Oh, it was true enough that Apple had its fanatical, cult-like following, but Apple’s fan base was oh-so-tiny in comparison to the other contestants and it was full of pretentious baristas and other obnoxious types. Apple simply didn’t fit the Judge’s image of what it takes to make a champion.

The Objective Olympics

The medalists for the Objective Olympics were a different story altogether. Let’s do them in reverse order:

Disqualified of Did Not Finish: Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, BlackBerry, Palm, Dell, and far too many others to list. Some started too soon, some failed to finish, some did both.

Shut Out: Microsoft talked a big game, but they finished with no medals. However, they vowed to win the next Olympics, for whatever that’s worth.

Bronze: The Bronze? No winner. The podium remains empty.

Silver: Samsung of course, with a strong showing. 309 million units, which represented 39.5% of total Android shipments in 2013.

Gold: In a surprise to absolutely no one who was paying any attention and to absolutely everyone who wasn’t — the Gold went to Apple. And it wasn’t even close.

Scoring The Objective Olympics

[pullquote]I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me. ~ Fred Allen[/pullquote]

“Apple!” cried the outraged Subjective Olympic judges. “Apple, the winner? And no medal for Google and Android? Impossible. Outrageous. Unheard of! The fix is in!

“Well, you see,” the Objective Judges calmly explained to their irate brethren over and over again, “in the Objective Olympics, we judge things by objective criteria and Apple walked away with them all — save one.

1) Apple gained mobile phone share. ((Gartner: Apple gained mobile phone share as smartphones overtook feature phone sales in 2013))

2) Apple dominated mobile platforms. ((Apple’s control of the app economy stronger than you know;

The Smartphone App Wars Are Over, and Apple Won))

The Smartphone App Wars Are Over and Apple Won” Yep. If you care about have the best/newest. Ben Thompson (@monkbent)

3) Apple dominated profits. Their profits went UP from 78% to 87.4% in 2013. And just to give you an idea of how much Apple dominated, iTunes — which is their “loss leader” — grossed half as much ($17.5B) as all of Google combined. ((Mobile phone market hits ‘the great moderation’;

Including hardware, iTunes grossed about $175b in 2013))

Market share is the right metric for Android’s business model. Revenue is right for iOS’. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. ~ @mtabini ((via ArrAySee @ArrAySee))

4) Apple INCREASED their Enterprise dominance. Apple’s iPad took 91% market share of enterprise devices. iOS took 73% overall. ((Apple’s iPad takes 91.4% share of enterprise tablets; iOS takes 73% share overall

Apple maintains enterprise dominance; Windows Phone lags

iOS Dominates Enterprise Market with 73% of Mobile Device Activations))

5) Apple dominated brand loyalty. iPhone owners have “blind loyalty” and will buy anything Apple makes. 78% of UK iPhone owners ‘couldn’t imagine having a different type of phone now. ((Study: iPhone owners have ‘blind loyalty’ and will buy anything Apple makes

78% of UK iPhone owners ‘couldn’t imagine having a different type of phone now))

Two Different Ways To Judge, Two Different Types Of Olympians

“What, what, what,” sputtered the flustered Subjective Judges. “If the facts favor Apple, then the facts must be Apple Fanbois!”

Yeah, they kinda are.

[pullquote]Android’s increased market share HAS NOT come at any cost to Apple’s iOS[/pullquote]

It’s been apparent for years that Apple was taking the high end of both phones and tablets and that Android was taking almost all of the rest. What HAS NOT been apparent to many is that Android’s increased market share HAS NOT come at any cost to Apple’s iOS. As noted, above, despite Android’s massive increase in market share, Apple’s numbers in platform, profits, Enterprise and customer loyalty all went UP.

Did you hear about the guy that lost his left arm and leg in a car crash? 
He’s all right now.

Did you hear about the company that lost all the profitless market share they weren’t ever competing for? They’re all right now too.

In Olympic terms, Apple didn’t enter the most events, Apple didn’t win the most medals, Apple didn’t win any medals in any event that they didn’t enter, Apple didn’t win any bronze or silver medals, but Apple kept its eyes on the prize and they took home the Gold in every event that they participated in.

Market share is the right metric for Android’s business model. Revenue is right for iOS’s. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Not that hard. ~ Marco Tabini (@mtabini)

Using market share alone as the one and only measure for who won and who lost the Mobile Tech Olympics borders on the delusional.

[pullquote]Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid. ~ John Wayne[/pullquote]

  1. It’s like awarding the Gold Medal to the hockey team that had the most shots instead of the most goals;
  2. It’s like awarding the Gold Medal to the speed skating team that had the most players instead of the fastest time;
  3. It’s like awarding the Gold Medal to the curling team that threw the most stones instead of to the team with the stones closest to the center of the target.

Never underestimate our ability to ignore the obvious. ~ Po Bronson

The Next Olympics

So what happens at the next Olympics? Well, like former president George Bush, I have opinions.

I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them. ~ George W. Bush

I’ll save my analysis of the future of Blackberry, Apple, Chinese Android, Samsung Android, Nokia Android, Microsoft Windows Phone and Google for next time.

Post-Script: Join me on Twitter @johnkirk.

Tech Toy Story

Microsoft’s newest ad campaign is breath taking but not, I think, in the way that Microsoft imagines.


Just a toy“, my ass. ~ Steven Aquino (@steven_aquino)

This is why Microsoft will lose. This shows they don’t get it…“ ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

Is there some sort of Redmond Triangle — a mysterious zone where ad executives of talent disappear without a trace? The Microsoft ad is ignorant, insulting, and shockingly naive. How could a company as successful as Microsoft get it so very, very wrong?

History Repeats

[pullquote]The only new thing is history we don’t know. ~ Harry S. Truman[/pullquote]

Of course, Microsoft is not the first — nor will they be the last — to dismiss their competitor’s products as mere “toys.” There is a long and storied history of such foolish behavior.

Most recently, Blackberry, a.k.a, RIM, proudly boasted that their phones were “not a toy“.

Bad omen for Microsoft: It’s using BlackBerry’s ‘tools not toys’ line. ~ BGR (@BGR)

I remember the last company to push the “tools not toys” line: BlackBerry. Worked out awesome for them. ~ Brad Reed (@bwreedbgr)

[pullquote]History is a very good teacher, but he has very few students. ~ Wael El-Manzalawy[/pullquote]

But the story of dismissing the new as mere toys, goes back over a hundred years and surely extends throughout all of history.

While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming. ~ Lee De Forest, inventor, 1926

I have determined that there is no market for talking pictures. ~ Thomas A. Edison, 1926

Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. ~ Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre , France

X-rays will prove to be a hoax. ~ Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, 1896

When the Paris Exhibition closes, the electric light will close with it, and very little more will be heard about it. ~ Professor Erasmus Wilson, 1878

It’s only a toy. ~ Gardiner Greene Hubbard, future father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell, on seeing Bell’s telephone, 1876

Although it is…an interesting novelty, the telephone has no commercial application. ~ J. P. Morgan, to Alexander Graham Bell

Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires as may be done with dots and dashes and signals of the Morse code, and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value. ~ Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865

Disruption Repeats

Disruption seems to follow a fairly steady pattern:

Stage 1: The incumbent over-serves the vast majority of their customers.

Stage 2: A challenger appears with a cheaper and/or simpler product or service that only performs a subset of the incumbent’s services. However, that subset served is the set of tasks that the vast majority of users wish to enjoy or perform.

Stage 3: The incumbent dismisses the challenger’s product or services as “beneath contempt”. Calling a new and inferior product a “toy” is a subset of such disdain ((Inspired by Horace Dediu)).

Who says you can’t do “real work” on a non-Microsoft tablet?

Just because Microsoft SAYS non-Microsoft tablet don’t do real work, doesn’t make it so.

In sales environments, a tablet is a better and more useful tool [than a PC]… ~ Nicholas Paredes

James Kendrick, of ZDnet, certainly seems to think that he gets “real work” done on his tablet.

And the way that Enterprises are snapping up non-Microsoft tablets suggests that SOMEBODY — and a whole lot of somebody’s — thinks that tablets are eminently capable of doing “real work.”

How many people use PC’s for “real work” anyway?

BeLifydCUAAMKDjBenedict Evans poses — and then answers — the question: “How many people use PCs for ‘real work’?

One problem with saying that you need a PC to do ‘real work’ is that a large % of people don’t actually use their PC for ‘real work’ ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

[pullquote]The easiest software incumbent to disrupt is the one prioritizing the needs of its strategy over the needs of its customer. ~ Aaron Levie (@levie)[/pullquote]

Microsoft has the question backwards. They’re asking: “How many tablets can run programs like Excel, Word and Powerpoint?” What they should be asking is: “How many people who use tablets need to use programs like Excel, Word and Powerpoint?”

Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. Microsoft’s tablets may or may not be efficient, but they’re not effective because they’re not doing the right things.

What’s So Wrong With Being A Toy?

Quite often, when incumbents think a new entrant product is a toy, they’re right. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

[pullquote]The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play. ~ Arnold J. Toynbee[/pullquote]

Being called a “toy” is not the insult Microsoft thinks it is. It may, in fact, be the ultimate compliment.

In the war between platforms you can use for real work and platforms that are just toys, the toys always win. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

Creating a computer that does real work is the act of an engineer. Creating a computer that makes work feel like play is an act of genius.

I LIKE the tools that help me get work done. I LOVE the tools that make my work fun to do.

When the craftsman made the first wheel, industry veterans pointed out you couldn’t use it for real work. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

It made for a fun toy though. ~ John Gruber (@gruber)

Microsoft Just Doesn’t Get It

[pullquote]Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself. ~ Tom Wilson[/pullquote]

Microsoft seems to make the same mistake over and over and over again. The phrase “less is more” is literally untrue; it’s a logical impossibility. But when people use this expression, they’re not speaking logically, they’re using self-contradictory phrasing to describe an important principle — that keeping things simple; that avoiding unnecessary detail; often improves things.

Microsoft just can’t seem to learn this lesson. And, ironically, the longer they think of their competitor’s products as toys, the less likely it will be that their prospective customers take them seriously.

BlackBerry Implosion: A Postmortem

In the past few days, the true extent of BlackBerry’s perilous position in the market has become clear, but the future for the company is cloudier than ever. The company plans to lay off another 40% of its staff, consumer device sales are being halted (or not – “prosumer” sales will continue), and the board of directors said it would consider offers for all or portions of the company. When BlackBerry’s stock cratered at the news, Fairfax Financial Holdings, its largest shareholder – and controlled by a former BlackBerry board member – put in a bid to stop the price from cratering further. We’ll see if other bids are forthcoming or if Fairfax actually buys BlackBerry (it can walk away any time during the next month of due diligence).

I’ve been tracking BlackBerry closely for over a decade as an analyst, and while everyone agrees that BlackBerry didn’t react quickly enough to Apple, there were three main reasons why it reacted so slowly. RIM, Nokia, Microsoft, and Palm all dismissed Apple’s entry in January 2007. This was partly understandable in 2007 when RIM was aimed at business users and the iPhone did not support corporate email. Google was the only player to see the iPhone for what it would become, and Google quickly changed Android’s UI from a variation on BlackBerry and Windows Phone to a touch-driven experience. RIM’s oversight was less forgivable in 2008 when RIM had launched the Pearl targeting consumers, and the iPhone got Exchange support, moved to a subsidized model, and announced the App Store. Verizon Wireless – iPhoneless at the time – handed RIM a prime opportunity to catch up in late 2008, but the BlackBerry Storm grafted a poor touch experience onto an OS designed for a scroll wheel. It was also a buggy mess. RIM only moved to create a modern, touch-first mobile OS in 2012, and phones finally shipped this year. By that time, it was too late – its high end users had moved to iOS, and its Curve sales were being decimated by cheap Android phones running WhatsApp.

What Went Wrong? There were three main factors:

  1. 1. NTP. When BlackBerry could have been designing breakthrough consumer-oriented BlackBerries just before the iPhone launched, RIM management was not focused on creating a browser and app-centric mobile experience – they were consumed with fighting a patent lawsuit from NTP. The fight was clearly personal to RIM management, and it took an enormous amount of time and attention away from running the business. The resulting line of consumer BlackBerries were just BlackBerries with a media player and a camera grafted on. They sold well, but did not position BlackBerry to succeed as the market shifted and expanded.
  2. 2. BBM. Once Apple started decimating RIM’s core prosumer user base in North America, BlackBerry sales and profits did not decline – they rose. RIM had lucked into a BBM frenzy in Europe and emerging markets, where consumers bought BlackBerries to save money on messaging. From 2009 – 2012, BBM’s success masked underlying problems in its business, and RIM further failed to realize that this windfall would soon be under severe margin constraints. Cheap Android phones running free messaging apps were more attractive than (relatively) pricey BlackBerries – and Android had a richer ecosystem of apps and services beyond messaging that BlackBerry couldn’t match.
  3. 3. Management. RIM’s senior management suffered from a truly epic case of founder’s syndrome. For years, people told RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis that what he was trying to do was impossible. RIM was successful anyway, and then financial analysts and the tech press switched to predicting that RIM would be crushed by Microsoft or Nokia. When the real wolf was at the door, Lazaridis and his co-CEO Jim Balsillie ignored it. As late as 2012, RIM actually diverted resources from BlackBerry 10 to push out a new, and not completely compatible, version of its old OS! BlackBerry management did not even prioritize phones for its new OS, launching BlackBerry 10 half-finished on the BlackBerry PlayBook. The PlayBook bombed, and BlackBerry 10 only appeared on a phone a year later (and without a critical mass of high quality apps). When Lazaridis and Balsillie stepped down, they did so unwillingly, and installed an insider to continue their strategy. New CEO Thorsten Heins genuinely did not believe that there was anything wrong at first, showing how out of touch and insular the management team was. Heins did eventually realize that things were dire, but under his watch, BlackBerry produced a horrific Z10 marketing and launch plan, and produced nearly a billion dollars of excess Z10 inventory.

The Definitive Answer Guide to Which Smartphone You Should Buy

Forget all the rumors of an Apple iWatch. Ignore the surprisingly good reviews of Google Glass. Neither of these will come close to replacing your smartphone. Not for many, many years; probably never. The question is not whether  you will buy a smartphone – you will. The question is: which smartphone should you buy?

I am here to help. Don’t worry, I promise this will be painless.

I’ve traversed two decades in the telecommunications industry and have spent ridiculous amounts of time over the years testing and sampling various smartphones across just about every single platform, price point and form factor. If it means anything to you, I even own a MeeGo. Looks great, but unfortunately it works about as well as your four-year-old netbook.

Let’s begin.

Dear Brian…

Which smartphone should I buy?

The iPhone 4S.

Perfectly designed, flawless to operate, affordable. Apple offers the best, most robust, most pleasing ecosystem of apps, games, content, payments, customer support, product integration and accessories. I cannot say exactly how many billions Microsoft, Google and others have spent over the years attempting to equal the iPhone’s operating system – iOS – but I can say that none have yet met the challenge.

Apple’s iPhone repeatedly tops the competition in customer satisfaction ratings. iPhone users are much more likely to stick with iPhone compared to Android users. That should tell you all you need to know.

Done! That was easy.

What? You have more questions? My singular advice simply not enough? Fine. What else?

Why not iPhone 5?

There is a reason why the iPhone 4S continues to sell so well around the globe: on form and function, ecosystem and compatibility, the 4S offers the best bang for the buck of any smartphone on the market, bar none.

Yes, the iPhone 5 is a great device. It has superior hardware specs to the 4S. In my opinion, however, it feels too delicate. It’s design is not perfect. iPhone 5 is too long and narrow. For many people, particularly women, they can’t control the entire screen with a single swipe of the thumb.

iPhone 5

I hate Apple!

No, you do not. Besides, Apple, just like Nokia, Google, Samsung et al is a giant, for-profit corporation unaware of your existence. This is not about them, this is about you – and the best smartphone for you. Get the iPhone 4S.

Don’t care. I refuse to buy an iPhone!

Fine. Buy an HTC One, it’s a good phone.

You’re saying the HTC One is better than the Samsung Galaxy S4?

No. I think the S4 is slightly better. But if you buy the S4 all your friends will think you did so only because of all those Samsung commercials.

Not a Droid or LG?


Shouldn’t I just wait for the latest model?

I cannot recommend that which does not exist.

I read that Android has surpassed iPhone. True?

After years of slavishly copying iPhone, the Android UI inexplicably remains almost willfully confusing. This is compounded by the greed and short-sightedness of carriers and handset makers. However, Google nearly makes up for this with great search, maps, Google Now notifications and other services optimized for Android. Plus, many handset makers like Samsung put amazing hardware into their devices. If you simply cannot bring yourself to get iPhone, an Android is a suitable alternative.

What about all the “phablets” I keep hearing about? Should I get one of those?



Do not be swayed by that big screen – even if you can hold the device in one hand comfortably.  Smartphones are not televisions. You take your smartphone with you everywhere. You use it constantly. A phablet is almost certainly not right for you. Form is a primal factor in choosing the right smartphone and the phablet form is an evolutionary dead-end. The one thing it does well – offer a very large display – simply cannot overcome all that it does bad. Phablets are too big, too wide, too heavy and not optimized for the role they attempt to fill: a multi-purpose, always-on, fully mobile personal computer.

I’m going to buy a phablet anyway. I like the big screen.

If you insist, then I recommend you get the new Samsung Galaxy Note II. You will regret this.

You obviously hate Windows Phone.

How Nokia could have blown through two plus years of development and delivered only the Lumia 920 and the 928 (soon), is beyond my comprehension. Windows Phone deserves a far better flagship device.

But I do not hate Windows Phone – the operating system. It’s a beautiful, reasonably intuitive, highly customizable UI that delivers real-time updates probably better than any other platform. The problem, though, is that Microsoft simply made the wrong UI choice. I suspect they will never recover from it. Singular, static apps really do work better for smartphones – as iPhone has proven repeatedly – than the “live tiles” format that Windows Phone adopted.

My daughter loves Facebook. Should I get her one of those HTC Facebook Phones?


But she really loves Facebook.

Get her any other (non-Windows Phone) phone listed here. I promise you, she will be fine.

I think you’re wrong about the iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 was a very clever attempt by Apple to build a device with a larger display – as the market demanded – while maintaining all the benefits of their app ecosystem. Apple can and will do better.

I cannot afford any of these devices.

Whatever smartphone you choose, assume you will have it for between 1-3 years. The cost of the device itself will almost certainly be less than the cost for voice, data and texting services. Plus, you will buy apps, music and other content, and accessories – such as a car charger, stereo speaker and case – for your smartphone. Factor all of these costs into your decision.

If you still decide to go with a low-priced device, get last year’s top-of-the-line Samsung: the Galaxy S III. If you can get a refurbished model, this is a truly great buy. If you cannot afford this, I would encourage you to not buy a smartphone at all. Get a quality feature phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard. There are many options available.

My company doesn’t allow me to use iPhone or Android.

Delta doesn’t allow me to have my smartphone running during take-off. That’s never stopped me.

I can’t possibly type on that touchscreen. I need a real keyboard.

You will learn.

I refuse.

Then, wait. Very soon you can have a BlackBerry Q10. I think you will be impressed. (Note: do not get the BlackBerry Z10)


Which carrier should I go with?

That I cannot help you with. They all have their own unique set of faults.

BlackBerry’s Super Bowl Ad Was Awful. Is There An Ad That Could Have Worked?

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 5.22.01 AMI’m a big Redskins fan, so when people asked who I was rooting for in the Super Bowl, they didn’t know whether I’d choose San Francisco (a city I visit so often I’m practically a resident) or Baltimore (a city not far from where I grew up). Still, I don’t think anyone was expecting my answer: I was rooting for BlackBerry. I knew that the company had a big ad planned for the game, and while I’ve been using the phone since before its launch last week, BlackBerry had not shown me its marketing campaign. I like the Z10. I like the people at BlackBerry. I like competition in the industry – it’s good for consumers and, to be completely honest, it’s good for my client base. I was rooting for BlackBerry to win. But my team lost – and it was a blowout.

If you missed the ad, here’s a link.

Summary: a man walks down the street using a BlackBerry Z10, random wacky things happen, and an announcer intones, “in 30 seconds, it’s quicker to show you what it can’t do. The new BlackBerry Z10.”

This ad is not as bad as Palm’s webOS ads where a vampire uses mind control on people doing tai chi or Sony Ericsson’s 2011 Super Bowl ad with dismembered thumbs; those were not just bad, they were creepy. I’m sure the BlackBerry folks in Waterloo love their ad – how couldn’t they? It says that the Z10 is so awesome that there’s no point in describing how awesome it is! Plus, it has a jackknifed tractor trailer turning into rubber duckies! That’s cool, right?

There are two problems with the ad:
1. The cardinal rule for successful technology marketing is to sell benefits, not features. This ad does not even sell the features! It just promises that there are features in there somewhere. (What are they? Who knows. Why should you care? No idea.)

2. BlackBerry is in serious trouble – it needs great marketing. John Kirk is correct; attacking Apple and Google head on once they have established their platforms is suicide. Running a $3.7 million ad that says, “we do lots of stuff,” is a waste of money. You know which other phones do a lot of things? More things than BlackBerry 10? Apple iPhones and Google Android phones.

Ouch. Is There A Way for BlackBerry To Succeed?

First, let’s define success. BlackBerry 10 does not need to propel the company back to its market share peak; if that is the short term standard for success, there is no hope. The smartphone market is now much larger than when BlackBerry was king; to be successful, the company needs to reverse its subscriber declines, and return to profitable growth. (The same is true for Nokia and Motorola.) If BlackBerry gets that far, its next challenges will be broadening the line to allow its base of BBM-centric Curve users in emerging markets to upgrade, and carving out a unique space with application developers and service providers so that the BlackBerry 10 gets unique apps and experiences first, not after iOS and Android.

However, getting there is an enormous challenge. BlackBerry is not a safe choice for consumers. It cannot compete with the depth and breadth of Apple and Google’s mature ecosystems. It’s not just that BlackBerry’s ad forgot to explain why anyone should buy a BlackBerry; the company seems to assume that as long as it builds a decent product, everyone will flock to it. (That was probably true in 2008, before Android was a juggernaut, but RIM missed that window. The BlackBerry Storm was not a decent product.) Today, building a good product is not good enough, because there is nothing broken in iOS or Android that BlackBerry 10 fixes.

Instead, BlackBerry needs to narrow its focus – and its message – to consumers who share its brand heritage: an obsessive, almost compulsive need for real time information and control. Amazingly, the BlackBerry 10 platform actually does prioritize these brand attributes, with the Hub, the core peek gesture, unique virtual keyboard, and the Reminder app. There are some off-message features, too, but on the whole, BlackBerry 10 was designed with a clear user in mind. The ad wasn’t.

The smartphone market leaders make excellent products and have tremendous supply chain execution, but they really set themselves apart in their marketing. Apple sells beautifully designed products that “just work” to people who believe they deserve just that. Samsung sells phones with the world’s best displays to people who don’t think of themselves as hipsters. Microsoft initially tried selling Windows Phone by focusing on a similar productivity-oriented message, but it botched the execution with ads that showed how much people loved their iPhones and Android phones. Today, Microsoft is mostly trading on celebrity endorsements, distinctive physical design, and remaining positive Nokia brand associations in Europe.

BlackBerry needs to get people who identify with its brand characteristics to buy a Z10 instead of an iPhone or Android phone, whether they owned a BlackBerry in the past or not, and whether they are security-conscious business users or soccer moms. It will not succeed by selling features, either. BlackBerry should not sell what the product does, it should sell why it does it.

The BlackBerry brand is damaged in the U.S., this is a complicated message, and you’ve only got one Super Bowl to do it. So don’t start by handicapping yourself with a 30 second window. Pony up, and give yourself 60 seconds of breathing room. It can be creative or simple, but the ad needs to reintroduce the brand, acknowledge past mistakes, explain the promise of the new platform, and ask like-minded consumers to join the tribe. Here’s my version:

Remember BlackBerry? [Show pictures of movie characters using BlackBerries, celebrities, and President Obama] We made the first smartphones, and empowered people to stay connected wherever they were and to keep on top of what drives them.
[blank screen] But we lost our way. Browsing, apps, and big touchscreens are important, and Apple and Google came and did those things well. Most people think that’s good enough. For most people, it is. But for people like us, there’s something missing.
So we started over.
[show features] The BlackBerry Z10 has a great browser and a beautiful screen. It has a store that sells 70,000 apps, music, and movies. But BlackBerries are created by and for people who believe in always seeing a message the second it arrives. On the Z10, all your email, text, and social network messages are in one place, and you can peek in on them without leaving your game, map, or movie. Our keyboard is amazing – type a few letters, and BlackBerry will suggest the whole word. And that’s just the beginning.
[text reads: BlackBerry Z10. Available soon at AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile]
Not everyone needs to be in control like this. But we do. And if you’re like us, it is time to join the BlackBerry tribe.

That’s my BlackBerry ad. What’s yours?

Blackberry: The Charge Of The Light Brigade

images-40Yesterday RIM, now renamed Blackberry, introduced the Blackberry 10. Tech.Pinions columnist, Steve Wildstrom, is cheering for Blackberry as are many Tech.Pinion regular readers and millions upon millions of others. Does the new, re-invented, Blackberry stand a chance? Or is Blackberry merely metaphorically repeating the infamous charge of the Light Brigade? In order to answer that question, let’s look at some computing history.

The Personal Computer

In the late seventies and eighties, at the dawn of the age of personal computing, there were scores of different competing computers and computing operating systems. By the eighties, things had begun to shake out. One by one, computers like the TRS-80, Commodore 64, Apple II, Atari ST, Amiga and others took their final bows and left the stage forever. By 1995 the only two players left standing were computers powered by Windows and the Mac. And as many of you know, the Mac was barely standing.

From that day until this, no one has seriously challenged Windows’ leadership in personal computing. For almost three decades, Mac aficionados have insisted that theirs is the superior operating system. Did that help the Mac overcome Window’s dominance and secure the personal computing crown for itself? No it did not.

On February 19, 1996, in an interview with Fortune, Steve Jobs said:

“The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”

He was right.



The MP3

In the self-same Fortune interview referred to above, Steve Jobs also said:

“If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing.”

And that’s exactly what Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple. Apple continues to milk the Mac to this day. And their next great thing was – the iPod.

In the late nineties, there were several companies competing to win the nascent MP3 wars. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, but it was really the one-two combination of the iPod and iTunes that eventually won the day. iTunes helped store, organize and deliver your music to your iPod and the it was the iPod – with its clean hardware, its easy to understand user interface and its easy to use click wheel – that helped you to easily find your music and play it.

“Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed.” ~ B.H. Liddel. Hart, Strategy

It’s important to understand two things here. First, the iPod was not a direct attack on Microsoft Windows. Far from it. In military terms, you don’t conduct a frontal assault against a well-entrenched enemy. In business terms, you don’t defeat the industry standard bearer just by being a little better — or even a lot better — at what you do. The Mac has been attacking Windows since 1984 and it still has only 5% to 10% market share to show for its efforts. (True, the Mac’s consolation prize is that it may garner as much as 35% of the sector’s profits, but that still does not make the Mac anywhere near the industry standard.)

Second, Apple did not win the MP3 wars simply by being better than the existing players from Sony, Archos and others. With the iPod/iTunes combo, Apple leap-frogged the existing market and created a whole new category of device. It was the synchronization of iTunes with the iPod that was its killer feature. And despite all the criticism that iTunes deservedly receives, no other competitor has come close to duplicating its functionality. In military terms, Apple created a whole new front. In business terms, Apple created a whole new category. And once Apple established itself as the standard for the new MP3 category, they never let go their grip. To this day, Apple dominates the MP3 market with over 70% market share and gawd-knows-how-much profit share.

Sony, Archos and others tried to unseat the iPod by providing cheaper devices with more features. Didn’t happen.

Microsoft came late to the MP3 game but they came with what they, and most industry observers, thought was the winning strategy. With PlaysForSure, Microsoft intended to duplicate, in MP3’s, the same success that they were enjoying in personal computing. Microsoft would create the operating system, license it to manufacturers and then watch as their open licensing system inevitably overwhelmed Apple’s closed operating system. Didn’t happen.

After a while, Microsoft tired of not gaining any market share (or any profits), threw their PlaysForSure partners under the bus, and created the Zune. (Kind of reminds me of how Microsoft is handling the Surface. But I digress.) It’s hard to remember now, but most industry observers predicted that the Zune was the beginning of the end for Apple and the iPod. At that time, Apple was a mere upstart and Microsoft was the 900 pound gorilla that everyone feared. What Microsoft wanted, Microsoft took. With the weight of Microsoft behind the Zune, how could it fail to become the industry standard? Didn’t happen.


The Smartphone

“Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard.” ~ B.H. Liddel. Hart, Strategy

In 2006, Smartphones were ruled by the Palm, Windows, RIM and Nokia. In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. By 2013, Palm was gone, Windows Mobile was gone, Nokia was a niche player, dependent upon Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, and RIM was making a bold gamble to regain relevance. What’s important to understand is that Apple’s iPhone was not, as many thought, a more expensive smartphone. Rather, it was an inexpensive pocket computer. Apple did not really make a better smartphone. Instead, they opened a new front, created a whole new category of device, and then dominated that category. Google did an excellent job of fast following with Android and now, between them, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android sell more than 90% of all smartphones.

Within a year after the introduction of the iPhone, Palm tried to reinvent themselves, but they lacked the resources to make it happen. Windows Mobile re-invented itself into Windows Phone 7, and again into Windows phone 8, and what has that gotten Microsoft? Perhaps 3% market share? Microsoft has all the resources in the world. They have tremendous business connections. They’re patient and persistent. And their Windows Phone operating system is well-respected. Yet they can’t seem to gain any traction in the phone market. If Microsoft, with all its advantages and with a four year head start, can’t gain any traction in the smartphone markets, then what realistic chance does Blackberry have?


The Tablet

“Exploit the line of least resistance – so long as it can lead you to any objective which old contribute to your underlying object.” ~ B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy

In 2001, Bill Gates was touting the advantages of the tablet. Yet in 2010, it took Apple only 7 months to sell more tablets than Microsoft had been able to sell in the previous 10 years. Did Apple do this by simply making a better tablet? No. Apple re-invented the tablet market by adding instant-on, longer battery life and a capacitive touch screen. But most of all, Apple re-invented the tablet by creating a wholly new touch user interface. Apple didn’t improve on the existing Microsoft tablets. They created a new category of device with a wholly new operating system.

By 1995, Microsoft’s Windows dominated personal computing, never to be challenged again. Neither Apple nor any other contender ever did or ever will unseat Windows from its dominant position. Instead, Apple created a new market and dominated it. By attacking Microsoft where it was weakest, Apple did in 7 months in tablets what it could not do in 20 years in personal computers.



Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade

Do I hate Blackberry or wish them ill? Absolutely not. I have tremendous respect for what they’ve done. The original Blackberry phones were category busters and a wonder to behold. But the truth is, it does not matter if the Blackberry 10 hardware and software are narrowly better than the iPhone or Android phones. They have to be so superior that customers will be willing to switch. Because remaining the number four, or even the number three, smartphone OS is not going to cut it with developers. And people don’t switch platforms unless the alternative is not just superior but FAR superior to their current platform. Just ask the Mac, the Zune, and Windows Phone 7.

If you want to argue that a fast follower can overtake a first mover, I will agree. If you want to argue that the Blackberry 10 – introduced over 6 years after the iPhone was introduced – is a fast follower, I will respectfully disagree.

In war, you don’t win a frontal assault unless you have overwhelming military superiority. The art of war is, in part, about how to avoid making frontal assaults. In business, you don’t win a war against an establised standard unless you have overwhelming product superiority. The art of business is, in part, about differentiating your product and advancing your strengths against your competitor’s weaknesses.

Blackberry is not creating a new front or a new category. They’re attacking the existing leaders where they are entrenched and strongest. Does anyone honestly think that the Blackberry 10 is so superior to the iPhone, Android phones and Windows Phone 8 that it will overwhelm any of them? If not, the Blackberry 10 is the charge of the Light Brigade all over again…with similar results, but lacking the poetry.

BlackBerry Delivers a Product: Now It Has To Sell It

BlackBerry z10 photo (BlackBerry)Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg nicely summed up the first day of the rest of BlackBerry’s life: “Good launch,” he tweeted. “Now it’s all execution.”

After what seemed like an interminable pregnancy, BlackBerry (the new corporate name; Research In Motion is history) delivered some very nice hardware running an impressive new operating system. The  all-touch Z10 is available immediately in Great Britain, next week in Canada and in March in the U.S. The Q10, with a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, is due in April.

The new products have a lot to offer. The Z10 looks pretty much like  every contemporary  smartphone–a black slab with a 4.2″ display that puts is between the  iPhone 5 and the somewhat bigger run of Android handsets. But it features a unique gesture-driven, messaging-centric operating system that combines some of the better features of the late, lamented webOS and Windows Phone 8 and which is its main selling point. Unlike the painful compromises of previous BlackBerry software, the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 is fully touch-optimized and is fluid and highly responsive. Its gestures take a bit of learning, but not very much.

But the new BlackBerry is not going to sell itself in a world thoroughly dominated by iPhone and Android. And the marketing message at BlackBerry’s Jan. 30 launch event was a bit muddled. It’s an old truism in marketing that if you are trying to sell to everyone, you are targeting no one and the BlackBerry approach seems somewhat unfocused.

One symptom of that was the announcement that Alicia Keyes would be BlackBerry’s  new creative director, but it was far from clear what her task is. Asked about it at a press conference, she offered something vague about increasing its appeal to the entertainment industry and to women. But one market is too narrowand the other too diffuse to be addressed meaningfully. I suspect Keyes will have about as much impact for BlackBerry as the Black-eyed Peas’ will.i.am has had in a similar role at Intel.

To have a chance of success (which I define, at least initially, as beating out Microsoft to become the No. 3 smartphone platform, a definition BlackBerry seems to share), the new phones have to win over several key markets.

The Die-hards. The  core of dedicated BlackBerry users still hanging on to their Bolds and Torches are the lowest-hanging fruit.  BlackBerry has to migrate them to the new platform as quickly as possible. They will be helped in this effort by the fact that radical as the new software is, it maintains a certain essential BlackBerry-ness. An example: I was annoyed by the fact that the mail program asked for confirmation each time  wanted to delete a message. But I found the toggle to turn that off exacty where I, as a longtime BlackBerry user, expected it to be.

The BYOD Crowd. This is a much tougher audience. Corporate IT managers, while grumbling about the traditional cost of BlackBerry services, have always liked having a  platform that offered unified management and proven security. But they had been forced to accept the iPhones and Androids that esxecutives have brought into the system and now must manage a melange of devices. They are prime targets for BlackBerry but winning them over win’t matter un less marketers can also win back the execs who adandoned BlackBerry in the first  place. One thing that will help is BlackBerry Balance, software that devides a device into a secure business partition and an open personal partition. Another, which could win me mover, is the integration of Evernote, the invaluable note-taking cloud service, into it Remember app, a sort of a cross between OneNote and Tripit.

The Message-centric. BlackBerry has always been primarily about messaging and the new versions do not ignore that heritage. While the rest of the system has been greatly beefed up, messaging remains paramount. If you are the sort of person who wants to know right away when an email message or a response to a tweet comes in–and want quick and easy access to it, the new BlackBerry is for you. The BlackBerry Hub, a central feature of the user interface, is the ultimate unified inbox. Marketing built around the BlackBerry’s messaging prowess could win over this audience.

BlackBerry has all the other smartphone bases covered, but not generally in a way that makes it a must have. The supply of available apps, somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 depending on who was talking and when, is pretty good for the launch of a new system. Most of the  major categories are covered and those that are missing, including Netflix, HBO Go, and Instagram, are rumored to be not that far off. BlackBerry made it relatively easy for developers to port Android apps to BB10, and approach that accounts for about 40% of the initial offerings. The camera is good enough to be competitive, but isn’t a reason anyone will buy a BlackBerry.

One large group of current BlackBerry customers that will not be served by the new phones is the millions of buyers–many in emerging markets–of inexpensive Curves for whom the biggest attraction is BlackBerry Messenger. The Z10 and Q10 are expected to sell for around $200 on a two-year contract in the U.S., and if BlackBerry has plans to come up with a low-cost model for the Curve market, they aren;t talking about it yet.

The bottom line is that BlackBerry has given it a really good shot. To increase their chances of success in a very tough market, they need to refine their message and focus their marketing tightly on the groups they need to win.









Cheering for BlackBerry

BlackBerry invitation header

On Wednesday, Research In Motion will launch its bid to save itself with the redesigned from the ground up BlackBerry. I’ll be at the launch event and I will judge the new hardware and software on their merits, still I have to admit that I am cheering for a BlackBerry comeback.

Apple reinvented the smartphone in 2007, but before that, the most important smartphone innovations came from Palm and RIM. Palm’s Treo (actually, the original version came from Handspring, a company started by Palm’s founders and later merged back into Palm) invented the concept of integrating a mobile phone and a PDA, along with third-party apps. The original BlackBerry, which was not a phone, created true mobile email and calendar. Eventually, this all came together to create the modern smartphone, which Apple took to the next level with the iPhone.

The iPhone did in Palm and nearly killed RIM. The decline of Palm was inevitable. The company was always cursed  by under-financing and a lack of stable, competent management. When Apple turned up the heat, Palm lacked the wherewithal to respond successfully with its reinvention after its purchase by Elevation Partners was too little, too late. Its demise after a horribly bungled acquisition by Hewlett-Packard was a somehow fitting  ending to a very sad tale.

RIM is a very different story. Palm knew what was happening to it but couldn’t do much about it. RIM, riding high as BlackBerry sales continued to soar well into the iPhone era, but lacked the paranoia than Intel’s Andy Grove long ago pointed out was a key to survival in a highly competitive industry. RIM co-CEOs Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie were convinced of the superiority of their product and their business model and failed to respond to the market’s shift toward demanding highly capable handheld computers, not glorified messaging devices.

Fortunately, RIM, unlike Palm, had deep financial resources and significant annuity revenue streams that bought it another chance. It has two reservoirs of strength, the popularity of its low-end devices in emerging markets (where volume sales can be had, but profits are scarce) and enterprises, especially governments and others with the greatest concern about security. Success in neither is a given, but the opportunities exist. And I’ll admit to a long-standing fondness for RIM, particularly Mike Lazaridis’ uncontained enthusiasm when he talked about his newest BlackBerry or showed off a lab at RIM’s Waterloo, Ont., headquarters.

I think that both Android and Apple would benefit from some additional competition. Microsoft, despite heroic efforts, has so far failed to win much traction in the mobile market. Had Windows Phone and Windows RT taken off, there wouldn’t be much room for a RIM comeback. But they haven’t, so there is. It’s going to take a spectacularly good product to succeed in this tough neighborhood. I’m hoping that RIM still has it in them.

Why RIM Is Not Dead Yet

2013-01-18T161117Z_1_CBRE90H18YX00_RTROPTP_2_US-RIM-SHARESI wanted to share some of my thoughts regarding RIM prior to them having their press event next week. I know there are many who have the opinion that RIM has been circling the drain for some time now and have counted out any rebound chances the company has. While I agree that the hills they face are steep, I am not ready to write their obituary yet. These are my reasons why.

The Sheer Size of the Mobile Market

When I give our platforms and ecosystems presentations to industry executives, investors, and at other public forums, the most common question I get when I talk about other platforms than the current dominant ones, is how many platforms can the market sustain. This is an extremely valid question, but it is one that I believe is asked with a backward looking view and not a forward looking view.

If we are using the PC industry as our example, then this question makes the most sense. There was one dominant platform—Microsoft—who owned the vast majority of platform share. If we look at the size of the market as well as where it was during along both the consumer adoption path and market maturity cycle, then we can explain quite a bit about why Microsoft was dominant, but also why at a certain point in time the door was open to other players. But the most relevant point on this topic was that during Microsoft’s dominance the market was both maturing, using Windows and more relevantly the Internet as the standard, but also not that large on a global scale. The market for PCs is in the hundreds of millions (and potentially shrinking) where the market for smartphones is in the billions. With such a large market it is easy to believe that a number of platform players can and will thrive as they carve out specific segments of the market to focus on.

As we are constantly observing, the one size fits all model simply doesn’t stand up in such a large consumer market and personal preference will only become more personal and specific to the end consumer the further down the adoption and maturity process that both smartphones and tablets go.

You Never Forget Your First Love

Our mobile market intelligence data continually points out positive sentiment toward RIM and the BlackBerry devices in particular. For many mobile professionals today, and even more millennials than you would think, they cut their proverbial smartphone teeth on BlackBerry devices. I can’t tell you how many times during our smartphone interview sessions with consumers we hear the words “I sure loved my BlackBerry.” Granted much of this sentiment was founded in the love of the BB keyboard that so many used for heavy text input. I believe we are past the point of the physical keyboard being desirable for the bigger sections of the market and we are yet to see what RIM intends to do with their hardware in this area. That being said, the level of positive sentiment toward BlackBerry devices is one that I do not believe can be discounted as I have a feeling that at the very least it will lead these consumers who share this sentiment to strongly consider BlackBerry’s new devices.

A Focused Opportunity

The opportunity staring RIM in the face is not the general mass market consumer, rather it is the mobile professional. A number of my colleagues in the field of industry analysis disagree with me and think RIM should go after the low end but I disagree. I feel RIM’s potential is the higher end. Many millions of global industry professionals switched to the iPhone from RIMs devices but also many millions still use them today.

Whenever I talk with folks still using RIM devices today, they acknowledge the fact that they are not the most cutting edge devices, but also point out that they are embedded into their workflow. Something that by itself is a key understanding. Just like how many professionals and corporate workplaces have come to standardize, depend, and are extremely comfortable with Windows and Office in their productive workflow. So are many of these same professionals committed and comfortable to RIM. These devices have helped them be successful and many have not changed yet for that very reason. Even though the iPhone and iOS is penetrating the workforce in rapid numbers I still think there is an opportunity for a second platform player focusing on the mobile professional. Android has not caught on largely due to security and Windows Phone is practically non-existent from current CIO surveys I have seen.

If RIM can bring to market a more modern and competitive solution targeting these individuals, I believe they can have a successful business by focusing on value to the high end on the front of hardware, software and services. Keep in mind this market may not be massive like the mass consumer market but I do believe it is lucrative.

Competitive Hardware and Software

This is the big IF. As I stated above targeting the mobile professional is the key but this hardware has to also be appealing from a consumer standpoint because these mobile professionals are also consumers at heart. So the saying goes “if you want to compete in enterprise, you have to compete for the consumers.” Its the BYOD effect in full swing.

RIM must bring competitive hardware to market. This was the root of Palm’s downfall in my opinion. webOS was an extremely competitive platform from an OS standpoint but the hardware was years behind. If RIM makes this mistake they will certainly go the unfortunate way of Palm.

Secondly the software experience must also be competitive and I don’t just mean a plethora of apps. I am becoming increasingly convinced that a solid list of quality applications is more important than a massive quantity of applications. I find every single app store shopping experience today much too cluttered and difficult to make decisions on which app to install or buy. See my thoughts on the paradox of choice for a more clear idea of what happens when we are faced with too many choices.

I’d rather have a much more curated app experience around the core things I do or applications I care about. By focusing on the mobile professional, this becomes a bit easier. Even Apple has begun to do this and smart platforms will take notice. Apple has many app essentials or app starter kits broken out by genre. This can be games, photography, productivity, social networking, etc., but when you look at these genre specific hubs you don’t see hundreds of apps you see dozens. These are highly curated and that is the point.

I am not downplaying the value of long tail applications, but what I am pointing out is that most consumers at best use 10-12 key applications regularly. They may download way more than that but regular use is much lower. This is why I believe that other platforms can come in with a segmented play and get the couple thousand or so most popular apps but then also begin to curate quality genre specific ones to the market segment they are focused on.

Of course for RIM, or any new platform entrant, there is a chicken and the egg scenario. To attract those key applications and keep attracting quality top tier applications, you need to acquire a critical mass. There is no if you build it they will come motto here. There is only if you sell tens of millions they will come motto. This is where the channel comes in and we will certainly see how serious the network operators are about wanting more platform choice.

I look forward to RIM’s event next week and to see whether it will alter my opinion on their future.

The BlackBerry Death Spiral


GovBizOpps screenshot


“Notice of Intent to Sole Source iPhone Devices.” That dry headline, from a National Transportation Safety Board post on the Federal Business Opportunities web site, is news about as grim as it can get for Research in Motion. Though the launch of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones the company is counting on for salvation is just over two months away, it may well be too late. Enterprise customers, long the backbone of RIM’s business, are abandoning the platform and without them, RIM has little hope of survival.

The NTSB. like many U.S. government agencies, has long depended on BlackBerrys for secure mobile communications. But they are beginning to fall away. Among others, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and two Homeland Security agencies, Customs & Immigration Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives have announced plans to move to the iPhone.

BlackBerry’s advantages have long been security and reliability and, indeed, RIM recently announced that it had won FIPS 140-2 security certification for the BlackBerry 10 platform.  But other devices, notably the iPhone, now also offer government-ready security solutions. As for reliability, NTSB says in its document justifying a sole source Verizon Wireless/Apple deal:

 This requirement is for the acquisition of Apple iPhone 5 devices. These Apple devices will replace the NTSB’s existing blackberry devices, which have been failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate. The NTSB requires effective, reliable and stable communication capabilities to carry-out its primary investigative mission and to ensure employee safety in remote locations.

If that’s the way its staunchest customers feel, RIM’s BlackBerry 10, no matter how fabulous, is doomed.

PlayBook 2.0: Is This the Best RIM Can Do?

UPDATE: On about the 10th try, I finally got both the personal hosted and corporate Exchange accounts working. I have no idea why the setup failed repeatedly and an identically setup eventually worked. I’m hoping for some explanation from RIM.


If any evidence is still needed that one-time leader Research In Motion has become hopelessly uncompetitive in the mobile computing market, there’s no need to look any further than the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software. Its flaws are not only enough to leep it from gaining traction in the tablet market, but  bode very ill for the next generation of BlackBerry handsets based on the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

PlayBook screen shotThe relatively few folks who bought the PlayBook have been waiting patiently for nearly a year for a software update that would make the 7″ tablet usable. The version 2.0 software takes them about halfway there, not remotely good enough in a world where Adroid tablets are steadily improving and Apple is readying a new version of the iPad that will doubtless increase its already huge lead over the competition.

The most surprising thing is RIM’s failure to get messaging even close to right. The PlayBook has finally gotten a native mail app, meaning it now longer must be connected to a BlackBerry handset through the Bridge app. The trouble is that the mail app isn’t very good.

PlayBook mail does not work with RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for corporate mail, contacts, and calendar. For that, you still need to use Bridge. In theory, it can connect to Microsoft Exchange accounts and I know who users who have done so. But I ran into repeated failure connecting the PlayBook to either a corporate Exchange account or a personal hosted Exchange account (picture), both accounts that I have set up on iPhones with no difficulty.

The standard internet mail is also sorely deficient. I was able to set up an IMAP mail account without trouble, but the PlayBook app displays only my inbox, not any of my folders. There is a separate Gmail app. but it turns out to be nothing more than a link to web Gmail.

BlackBerry Messenger, another signature RIM product,can also be used only with Bridge, although RIM promises that a native client will be available eventually. The PlayBook mail app can be set up to include Facebook mail and Twitter direct messages. But there is still no proper Twitter app for the tablet. That tantalizing Twitter icon on the home screen again proves just to be a browser link.

This is sorely disappointing, because the the PlayBook is an attractive piece of hardware, especially at the $199 (for the 16 MB version) fire sale price. It has an excellent user interface, reminiscent in some ways of the lamented Palm webOS, and excellent display, and good battery life.

The lack of third-party apps is a serious problem, but the real issue is RIM’s failure to deliver proper messaging. From its beginnings, BlackBerry has meant messaging and this remains its fundamental selling proposition. Without world-class mail or BlackBerry Messenger, the PlayBook simply has no competitive advantages and many  drawbacks.

Worse is what appears to be the reason for PlayBook communications deficiencies. BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry Enterprise Server were designed to work with the peculiar software environment of the Java-based BlackBerry OS. RIM has never successfully ported these services to other OSes and it looks like they are having no success bringing it QNX, the RIM-owned OS at the heart of both the PlayBook and BlackBerry 10. That leaves the BlackBerry reliant on Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for enterprise mail. Even disregarding my unfortunate experience, Exchange ActiveSync is something Apple  already does really well, though Android still needs either OEM modifications or third-party software to handle it. If this is the best RIM can do nearly a year after the original release of the PlayBook, I’m afraid they have run out of time.


Did Engineering Blind RIM to iPhone’s Assault?

BlackBerry 850 photo
BlackBerry 850

Research In Motion board member Roger Martin offered the Globe and Mail a passionate, though rather odd, defense of of RIM’s actions in the long decline that led up to the departure of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille. In the course of defending for ignoring advice he described “go bankrupt and fire our founders and bring in a moron,” Martin, dean of the University of Toronto business school, may have inadvertently put his finger on the real problem.

“People were saying we can’t make powerful phones like Apple,” Martin told the Globe and Mail.  “Yes, we can, but we couldn’t believe consumers would put up with that kind of battery inefficiency and that kind of network inefficiency.”

Mike Lazaridis is an engineer to his very core. I met with him many times over the years and he would always bring the newest BlackBerry, often a product weeks or months away from release. He was always proudest of two features: its battery life and the way it kept network traffic–initially just email and later web data–to a minimum.

In the beginning, these were huge virtues for the BlackBerry. RIM had its origins in the paging business, where long battery life and minimal data use were paramount. The original BlackBerry 850 not only looked like a pager, it ran on the very low-bandwidth DataTAC paging network and probably used less data during its lifetime than an iPhone consumes in a few minutes.

As the BlackBerry evolved into a smartphone, Lazaridis’ obsession with battery life served it well. Its early competitors the Handspring (later Palm) Treo and Windows Mobile Phones had problems in both departments. At one time, the BlackBerry proxied browser ran rings around the competition in loading pages.

The problem is that as networks got much faster, BlackBerry’s data stinginess became more of a burden than an advantage. It’s easy to forget, but the iPhone was the first smartphone to offer anything resembling a PC browsing experience, and it didn’t really get good until the introduction of the iPhone 3G in 2008. But from then on, the BlackBerry was lost. People wanted full-featured web pages, they wanted them fast, and they didn’t care much about the data consumption, especially when they were doing a lot of their browsing on fast, unlimited Wi-Fi networks.

BlackBerrys still crush the competition on battery life, often able to go through a couple days of hard use without recharging. The difficulty is that the competition has gotten good enough. The demand is for a phone that will get you through a day’s use before you need to recharge. More is nice, but it doesn’t sell hardware.

I think it is likely that the BlackBerry engineering team, led by Lazaridis, fell in love with the wrong metrics. They were still concentrating on battery life and data consumption as the world became concerned with performance and app availability. Too much of a good thing can, indeed, be very bad for you.

The RIM Story: In Praise of Mike and Jim

Micke Lazaridis photo
Michael Lazaridis

The departure of Research In Motion co-CEOs Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie was, as amply noted by just about everyone, long overdue. Given the shipwreck that RIM has become, it’s understandable, but more than a little sad, that the coverage has paid so little attention to what Mike, Jim, and RIM accomplished during their glory years.

More than any other company, RIM mobilized business, first by offering the first truly practical two-way messaging device, then by providing enterprises a reliable and secure way  to get messaging onto mobile devices.

In my years of reviewing gadgets, the original BlackBerry 850–a two-way pager–was one of the few that I fell in love with at first sight. The concept of a two-way pager was not new; there were products on the market from Motorola and others. But the original 1999 BlackBerry had a keyboard you could actually use to type a message, a keyboard unsurprisingly similar to the ones found on current BlackBerry models. And RIM offered a straightforward way to get mail from a Microsoft Exchange server to the BlackBerry.

That  service evolved into the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, a powerful  tool for companies to move mail, secure Web browsing, custom apps, and instant messaging onto mobile devices. Security was built in from the beginning, so BlackBerry’s developed a massive following in government and in the heavily regulated finance and health care industries and  made RIM a massive success in the last decade.

The recent sins of RIM’s management are large. They failed to respond adequately to the iPhone, the app revolution, and the consumerization of mobile. Microsoft’s steady improvements to Exchange ActiveSync gradually ate into BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s advantages, and Apple’s quiet work with Microsoft to enable secure Exchange mail on the iPhone allowed iPhones to displace BlackBerrys.

But while it is easy to blame Jim and Mike for their failings, we should not forget their accomplishments. They played a huge part in making the mobile industry what it is today.

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion May Be RIM’s Future

The flood of iPhones, iPads, and Androids into corporate offices is destroying BlackBerry’s once dominant position in the enterprise. In a bold if-you-can-lick-them-join-them move, Research In Motion is striking back with BlackBerry Mobile fusion, a software and a back-office package that promises to bring BlackBerry-like security and manageability to competing hardware.

BlackBerry iPhoneThis may be an obvious move for RIM, but it is not an easy one. The company’s DNA–and the heart and soul of co-CEO Mike Lazaridis–is in hardware. Previous efforts to bring BackBerry functionality to  third-party hardware, such as BlackBerry Connect for Nokia and Windows Mobile, were half-hearted at best and went nowhere. But RIM today is threatened with irrelevance and needs a desperate move to get back into the game. And the may be a secret agenda behind Fusion: It could be the solution to bringing full BlackBerry services to the troubled Playbook tablet and the new generation of handsets based on RIM’s QNX operating system.

Fusion may offer an attractive solution to IT managers, especially in Microsoft Exchange shops,  bedeviled by  users demands that they be allowed to use the smartphone of their choice for business. Of the alternatives to BlackBerry, currently only iPhone comes close to providing full support for Exchange, including a wide range of security policies. There are third-party solutions for Android, such as Good Technologies BlackBerry-like server-based system or NitroDesk’s TouchDown app, which provides support for a variety of Exchange-based mobile device management systems.

The big advantage of Fusion, if it delivers on its promises when it is released next March, is that it runs on top of the existing BlackBerry Enterprise Server and gives IT managers a single platform they can use to manage a variety of devices: BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPad, and Android phones and tablets. All of the existing third-party offerings require some sort of multi-server infrastructure to support all devices.

There’s also a curious little note in the fusion announcement that may hint at a broader role for the software:

RIM has clearly been having a very difficult time making the QNX-driven PlayBook work properly with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, a fact that helps explain the crippling lack of native mail, contact, and calendar apps on the device. The Fusion language still doesn’t promise full BES support for the PlayBook, but is definitely moving in that direction. A similar solution might help RIM bring BlackBerry services to its forthcoming QNX handsets.

All of this, of course, is a double-edged sword for RIM, because the better Fusion is, the more damage it may do to the company’s  fading handset business. But long term, RIM’s only path to survival may be as a provider of managed services for enterprise mobility. That would be a sad comedown for a company that once dreamed of dominating the consumer smartphone business, but it may be all that’s left.



Should the Media be Proclaiming RIM’s Death?

Over the past few weeks i’ve been reading a number of articles from the big media outlets all proclaiming the death of RIM. Most of these articles are pretty grim and their headlines say it all. I have nothing against a good or controversial headline its more the content of the article i’m interested in. What i’ve noticed is the content of these articles being fairly negative on RIM don’t really offer much helpful insight for either the consumer or RIM itself.

Two articles in particular this week are examples of what I mean.

BGR: Inside RIM: An exclusive look at the rise and fall of the company that made smartphones smart

All Things D: Bring Out Your Dead: Is Research In Motion The Next DEC?

So what I am wondering is what the role of the media should be in a situation like this where a company is struggling. Given that the media is extremely influential and actually does affect the mind share of consumers, it seems that if all the outlets go around saying RIM is dead, consumers will believe it and write them off no matter how good any future products may be.

Perhaps it would be more helpful if these articles contained a balance and point out what has gone wrong but offer helpful suggestions on what RIM could do to remain competitive. The result would be that the market may not write RIM off entirely and instead look to see if RIM responds to the helpful insights to the media, using the media to their advantage, and still have a shot at competing.

Too often it seems like the media is powerful enough to claim a companies death, thus affecting the mind share of investors and consumers and in return create a self fulfilling prophecy where the company actually does disappear.

Now i’m not saying the media does not always write negatively. In fact a number of good articles have come out that do offer helpful suggestions. I simply believe they are more rare than the norm. A few examples:

In BGR’s Open letter to BlackBerry bosses: Senior RIM exec tells all as company crumbles around him the letter itself contains helpful insights and suggestions.

Even though we are analysts not journalists Tim and I have also covered the topic.

Tim Bajarin wrote one for PC Magazine called What RIM Needs To Do To Survive that offered a number of suggestions for RIM.

And in my article last week for the tech section of Time.com I wrote about The Tragic Decline of BlackBerry and offer some insights as well on how to turn it around.

The bottom line is I would like to see more competition and consumer choice than less. I know negative news drives traffic but what i’m hoping is that there is a balance. I’d love to see the media also use its influence to do all they can to help struggling companies better compete going forward.

Again it comes back to my original question. What should the role of the media be when a company is down?