Funeral for RIM
I’ve been drafting this post for a long time, but have held off on hitting that “publish” button. At first I was unable to explain the delay, but after some reflection, it’s obvious a little part of me is still a crackberry addict. “There’s no love like your first love” rings equally true with your first smartphone. Since you’re reading this, however, you’ve cleverly deduced that eventually, I DID hit the button. (Or you wanted to pimp out your refrigerator and mistyped “tech-rator.com” in which case you can stop reading now)
Anyway, I’ve got a simple explanation behind my decision….
It’s time for me to shut up and move on. RIM’s actions this past year have forced me to sound like the most annoying broken record ever conceived. Grab an old vinyl copy of “Take me out to the ball game”, scour it vigorously with steel wool, and play it at 78 RPM for 419 days straight. That’s what they’ve turned me into!
I’ve decided to overcome my denial, click publish, and let go…
They’re dead? What are you smoking?
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. Yes, RIM currently enjoys 35% market share and is valued at 32 billion, counterpoints that might be important were I literally proclaiming their death. No, instead I’m invoking a far grimmer demise, one of “geek death”. This is where millions of device lovers begin a slow exodus to shinier gadget pastures, leaving a once innovative company to plummet into obsolescence. Got that? They’re as good as dead in the world of the next “cutting edge shiny thing”.
Let’s start off on a positive note
First, some faint praise that will establish a more dramatic contrast with the 97% of this post that won’t be faint praise. Research in Motion has a fantastic history and should take enormous pride in their accomplishments. The Blackberry has become a cultural touchstone, led at the forefront of mobile tech for generations, and even developed it’s own lexicon (crackberry, crackberry thumb, etc). Take a bow fellas, it might be your last!
The beginning of the end
Everyone has their theory, and mine is that death blow numero uno can be attributed to the first iPhone. While it consisted of existing components, (yes, the Nokia 5500 used an accelerometer a year earlier) the iPhone had a technological “bigger than sum of all parts” thing going for it. Needless to say the device instantly added serious competition to the mobile battleground.
As an avid Blackberry user at the time, I was confident that RIM was capable of quickly adapting to their new competitor. RIM was in the game so long, couldn’t they simply go in the lab and fetch some bad ass prototype they’ve been toying around with? Helping the situation was that the iPhone for all its strengths, lacked multitasking, cut & paste, a camera flash, 3.5 headphone jack, removable battery, and push notifications, all features my existing Blackberry had.
So the message to improve was out there, but it was uttered in a smooth Jamaican-esque “No worries, be the best mon you can be, mon” instead of a deep-space radio-garbled “My god what is THAT????” *signal lost*
I’m so tired of being wrong
The three readers (four, if I count as a proofreader) of this fine blog know all too well about what transpired next. In the past year I’ve conveyed my concern to RIM, pleaded with them, and even WARNED THEM of the competition lurking on the horizon. Whether unable to handle the truth, or completely unaware of my existence, they chose to ignore my advice and that of similar blogs. I’d say the consequences of doing so are now bearing fruit.
After the debut of the iPhone, and the critical failure of the Storm, RIM seemed content to sit around with their head in the clouds, ambivalent (instead of terrified) to be in a showdown with Apple. They had a window of opportunity to get their act together, but I believe it has now SLAMMED shut.
A second leader emerges
Death blow numero dos (and the inspiration for this post) was delivered a few weeks ago at the Google I/O developer conference. This is the annual get together for all things Google, and a slew of announcements were made. Most impressive were those related to Android, specifically the next iteration that will soon be released. The new features of “Froyo” (Frozen Yogurt is the codename for some bizarre reason) were so impressive, many felt Android even leapfrogged Apple’s iOS in awesomeness. Android phones will be soon be rocking flash, becoming portable hot spots, have insane cloud connectivity, and will even be able to drive your kids to school! (That last item is unconfirmed)
As I was reading all this news, I remember mumbling to myself that Blackberry “is completely screwed”. Apple and Google are in a full war, and the pace of innovation is breakneck. It seems more likely that RIM will first slide into territory Palm previously occupied (3rd place), and then continue into territory they currently occupy (no place).
How could this have happened?
RIM is well known as being a traditionally conservative company. Generally thats a good thing, unless it’s the hyper competitive world of technology. Obviously RIM has some bright people and a great product, because they gloriously rode the top of the tech world for over a decade. But….
New decade, new players, new ballgame….
Their current problem is failing to adapt to the emerging realities of the mobile world. Instead of making bold decisions and being aggressive with technology, RIM has plodded along with a glacially slow incremental update cycle.
In a nutshell, RIM is behind the times philosophically and technologically. Their OS, the heart and soul of the device, lacks a cohesive interface, connectivity (internet especially), and scalability. Their hardware is an even uglier situation. While Apple, Android (HTC, Motorola) and others are now incorporating front facing cameras, digital compasses and gyroscopes, RIM twiddles their thumbs and offers one uninspired feature set after another.
Is RIM unwilling or incapable of keeping pace with this innovation?
And here’s the spittle flecked crux
The problem is that cellphones have evolved into a complete mobile experience. Phones are no longer phones, they’re handheld laptops. The former requires a fraction of the resources and creativity of the latter. Slap a keypad on a block of plastic, add a screen and an antenna, and voila! But these newfangled super phones? You need to start off with a nice obsidian colored slab packed to the gills with accelerometers, compasses, gyroscopes, cameras, plugs, jacks, buttons, radios for Wi-fi, aGPS, bluetooth, AND THEN slap on the BIGGEST, BRIGHTEST fucking screen ever made. If that glorious collection of circuitry isn’t prepared for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you throw at it, you go back to the drawing board and WILL it into existence. I’m talking about a piece of tech with so many electronics crammed in it, the radiation alone will mutate a punk 100 lb eighth grader into a 10 foot tall Norse God after a five minute phone call!
you design an OS with the foresight that new innovations come, so YOU better make them easy to integrate ahead of time. It needs to be a robust multitasking MONSTER that stingily sips battery, yet eats apps FOR BREAKFAST. An elegant architecture is a MUST, and easy accessibility for the programming community follows closely behind. If you’re thinking “an approachable vegan bodybuilding ballerina with unlimited dancing potential”, come and collect your prize!
you need to create and support an ecosystem for your product. Break out the Cat o’ nine tails and get those app developers to pump every OUNCE of utility out of the device. Once the ball starts rolling, they’ll be coming up with ideas that would put the most fevered visions of a black plague dying Renaissance artist to shame! I’m talking the phone drives the car via bluetooth and orders crumpets from the upcoming rest stop type of shit.
And don’t give me any “many of those items are mutually exclusive” crap either. Are you telling me the iPhone 4G, Evo, and next gen Droids aren’t getting closer to the description above? (Hopefully minus the radiation)
RIM “did” great smartphones, but they “do” horrible handheld laptops. A few years ago when things we’re simpler RIM could compete until the cows came home. But now? In this new landscape? I wouldn’t trust a RIM engineer to tie my shoe, let alone expect them to make a major change in the way they do things. And don’t think anything is going to happen, because how can one change when one’s very problem is an inability to change?
What’s their future?
The fate of BB can go a few ways, but I’ll bet 90% of it will be following in the foot steps of Palm. (For those unaware, Palm once strode upon the top of the mobile world, then sat on their laurels and let it pass them by)
Rim may take a slightly different fork at the end of the road, but it’ll be inconsequential for our purposes here.
On their present course, I envision the following…
Now to two years out
Apple and Google will take off in the mobile race, creating an ever widening disparity between their platforms and RIM’s. As it begins the descent from “Smart” phone to “not as smart phone”, the Blackberry will probably reign supreme on the second tier for awhile, competing with “cutting edge” companies like LG and Garmond. The days of being featured in a Time Magazine “hot new gadgets” article or a Good Morning America tech segment will come to an end. Then, in the next iteration of Android or iOS, their corporate grip will reach a tipping point of erosion.
Two to Five years out
Apple set the grinding wheels of inevitable doom in motion, but I’ll put my money on Google being the assassin. That’s because Google will unveil some free corporate equivalent to the Blackberry Enterprise Server. (Let’s hope they re-brand it, because white shoe lawyers and little green robots sounds like an odd mix). With RIM’s BES licenses now having a value between “losing lottery ticket” and “single square of toilet paper”, it’s only a matter of time until someone (Microsoft) picks them up for scraps (Patent portfolio).
A fond farewell to an old friend
I’d like to thank RIM and it’s “instant” email for efficiently delivering the rambling poems of roommates past. Your awesome messenger services alerted me via text that I was single again, and your web browser helped me kill time in such exotic locations as Cleveland INT’L airport and the local Dunkin’ Donuts. Your contributions to my life won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Perhaps in a few decades we’ll briefly meet again via an “I love the 00’s show”!