Last week, BlackBerry reported a dreadful fourth quarter, showing a net loss of $125 million. This prompted RIM, among other moves, to release a statement promising to focus more fully on the business consumer. If this was 2005, it would be an absolute no brainer. Enterprise solutions are what made BlackBerry a household name before they unsuccessfully tried their hand at the consumer market, so why wouldn’t refocusing on enterprise save them now? The trouble is that since BlackBerry put smartphones on the map with their business-friendly offerings, they’ve been consistently leapfrogged by other manufacturers and operating platforms. And because both iOS, Android and even Windows phones have become ubiquitous in the business world, it’s going to be extremely hard to regain that market.
Redefining “The Business Consumer”
BlackBerry’s new focus on the “business consumer” may fall on deaf ears because, let’s face it, when it comes to smartphone users, there’s really no such thing as a strictly “business consumer” anymore. We have our devices on us at all times, and the typical user is looking for something that addresses both business needs and the need to smash pigs with disgruntled birds or Draw Something. So even though BlackBerry’s ads want us to believe that anything outside of the BlackBerry operating system is a “toy,” it’s simply not true. There is a feeling that BlackBerry does have a leg up on the competition when it comes to network security, but since the other platforms have become more adopted in the corporate world, it won’t be long before it’s an equal playing field, and some may argue iOS is already there. And it’s unfortunate that one of BlackBerry’s so-called brand differentiators at the moment is the physical keyboard. While they hands down have the best physical keyboards, we’ve become very accustomed to writing emails with a touchscreen, and those who haven’t have a handful of Android and Windows phones to choose from that feature more than capable physical keyboards. Creating handsets specifically for “The Business Consumer” also assumes that BlackBerry is going to be able to create devices that are going to be so superior at “business” solutions, that people will carry one of them for work, and then go back to using their “plaything” Androids and iPhones when they leave the office. Raise your hand if that sounds ideal to you. No one? Okay, moving on.
The App Playground
I have both an Android handset and an iPad. I like both of them for different reasons and think they both excel at different things. The truth is, and this might cause a bit of an uproar among Apple and Android fanboys, iOS and Android devices aren’t all that different. Sure, there are differences in connection speeds, processor speeds, battery life, screen resolution, other surface level things but the overall form and functionality are similar enough. They’re sleek, slim, glossy, utilize touch-screens, are great for surfing the web and are more than sufficient for answering work emails or viewing documents on the go. This is mainly the reason that everyone’s suing each other over patent infringements. When smartphones came out, it was the features that set handsets apart. Now, the base features that are shipped with the device are only the beginning and are pretty standard. It’s the apps that truly run the show. You buy a handset and the apps that you put on it define whether your device is business-focused, consumer-focused, or a bit of a mixture of both. Just because you have an iOS or Android device doesn’t pin you as a “consumer” anymore as there are a number of solutions on both the iOS and Android platforms which make it easy for any of their devices to cater to the business user. And the fact that the number of apps on both Android and iOS outnumber BlackBerry by about 700,000, the chances are that the business user is probably better catered by the two former.
What’s Next for BlackBerry
In short, the outlook is bleak. BlackBerry’s lack of innovation over the past 5+ years compared to their competition shouldn’t give anyone a good feeling that they know how to right the ship. But all is not lost.
What’s that saying about the first step to getting help being able to admit you have a problem? They know they have to do something radical to improve things, and it looks like they’re making moves in the right direction. They’re also close to launching their new operating system, BlackBerry 10 and some leaked photos of the new system are getting some people excited. However, by the time it reaches the market, iPhone 5 will be out and it may be too late. If BlackBerry 10 fails to turn things around, will they be out of options? A colleague of mine suggested that if that happens, the only remaining option might be to kill the operating platform, use their skills at creating business-focused devices, and focus solely on making the hardware for another platform.
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