Files under Tech & Gadgets
In a few months the comeback attempt will begin. Research In Motion, creators of the BlackBerry, will launch a new line of devices designed to bring them back up to speed with the modern smartphone market. While we don’t know many specifics on the new BBX line of smartphones, we do know that RIM will brings its A game.
The writing on the wall is clear: iPhone and Android dominate, and leave little room for competitors. If the BlackBerry is to make a comeback, it has to raise itself to iPhone’s and Android’s level.
How can RIM accomplish this? The way many upstarts go from small time to greatness: by learning from those who came before them. It might seem odd, since BlackBerry was the original smartphone.
But after falling behind the times they have plenty to learn from those who changed the market. Here’s a lesson they can learn from Apple, and one they can learn from Android (plus one they can learn from Palm).
From Apple: Revolution
Why did the iPhone so quickly surpass the BlackBerry? A common answer might involve the Cult of Mac — that group of loyalists who praise everything that Apple creates and sheepishly buys them on the release date.
But that only explains a small part of the iPhone’s success. The real reason that the iPhone took the market by storm: it changed the way we think about smartphones.
Sure, the BlackBerry had apps, and it had a low level of game support. But it centered on business activities, such as messaging and calendars. Those were fine and good, but they were the baseline for what a smartphone could accomplish.
Apple re-imagined the entire concept of a smartphone and delivered customers something that they didn’t even know they wanted. But once they saw it, they knew they wanted it. That’s how products change the market.
With its latest line of BlackBerry 7 smarphones, including the all-touch BlackBerry Monaco, RIM delivered solid, usable devices. Yet they generated almost no marketing buzz. Why? Because they didn’t change the market. With its BBX line of phones, RIM needs to show us something new.
Further, it needs to be something that we didn’t necessarily know we needed. Apple accomplished this by forgetting what people said and focusing on what people do. RIM would be wise to do the same.
From Android: Constantly Improve
When Google came onto the smartphone scene with the HTC/T-Mobile G1 in 2008, it stood little chance against the behemoth that was the iPhone. The operating system was clunky at best. The phone itself was a monstrosity.
Even though it added the physical keyboard, it did so at the cost of size. It was big and bulky. Meanwhile, the iPhone 3G, released earlier in the year, was a sleek, sexy smartphone. There was no chance that the G1 would make a significant dent in iPhone sales.
Month after month Android improved. It took a while, but about a year after the G1′s release, Android was ready for prime time. It had gone from a clunky device with a rough UI to a sexier device, the Motorola Droid, and a much more streamlined UI.
From there Android constantly pumped out improvements, while manufacturers made sure that Android devices had top of the line hardware. The result: at this point it’s pretty clear that Android has the best smartphones on the market. Apple still wins the marketing war, but in terms of device power and usability, Android is on top.
With BBX RIM needs to avoid its past habits, which include infrequent and incremental updates. Since the iPhone was released in 2007 RIM went from OS versions 4.5 to 4.6 (and 4.7) to 5.0, but not much at all changed. Finally, in 2010, they made a significant change to OS 6, but that wasn’t available for most older devices.
In 2011 they introduced OS 7, but that was merely a minor update over OS 6. Worse, absolutely no older devices get OS 7. If RIM wants to work its way back into people’s good graces, it has to constantly improve, and from time to time introduce significant upgrades. If it sticks with business as usual, it won’t stand a chance.
From Palm: Good enough is not good enough
There is nothing wrong with webOS and the Palm Pre. In fact, many people I know loved the devices. They only dropped them when it became clear that the smartphone market was moving in a different direction. The Pre was good, but it wowed no one.
If BBX is merely an improvement on the current RIM OS, then it won’t mean a thing. It’s already been established that in order to succeed, a smartphone must be great. It must exceed expectations. Good enough is never good enough when the competition is so lofty.
Can RIM put together a remarkable, revolutionary smartphone platform? Sure it can. Anyone who has used the PlayBook knows that BBX has potential. But it takes more than an OS with potential to shift the market. If RIM can give us something revolutionary, and then continually improve on it, they will win back customers. Otherwise, it’s business as usual.