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Blackberry’s Impossible Mission

Today, Research in Motion Blackberry announced with great fanfare their new Blackberry 10 operating system and devices.  Unfortunately, the market has shifted so radically in the past few years, it’s not clear to me what path exists for any meaningful success for Blackberry.

Blackberry is on an impossible mission.

Why Blackberry?

I used a Blackberry for over seven years.  In fact, I didn’t move to the iPhone until the 3G came out with the native application platform.  Like many, I was addicted to the perceived and actual productivity of messaging on the Blackberry and the physical keyboard.

Like most people who make the switch, it took me a few weeks to get to be “good enough” to type and message effectively on the iPhone.  The millions who are still on the Blackberry tend to focus on exactly one issue: the Blackberry is an amazing messaging device, thanks to the keyboard & software optimization.

The Victory of the Touch Screen

I remember, in 2009, making a Blackberry my temporary “full time” mobile device for a few days.  It was amazing – in just a year, I had completely lost all the muscle memory that made me so productive on the Blackberry.  The iPhone had won.

The reason is simple: a fast, modern device that offers the full richness of the modern web, combined with a vibrant and high quality native application market dominates the marginal efficiency in messaging.  Whether you use iOS or Android, minor productivity improvements in SMS & Email are swamped by access to applications, games, web services, cloud platforms and a myriad of other capabilities.  The smartphone itself has now evolved into a variety of form factors and niches, with phablets and tablets eating an increasing share of our attention and computing.

Blackberry’s Impossible Mission

Right now, it seems like Blackberry has no viable path as a third platform.

Yes, the ardent users of the platform can buy the new devices for their hardware keyboards.  But there aren’t enough of them (h/t to Daring Fireball), and it’s hard to imagine that this market won’t get eaten by the flexibility provided by the Android platform in time.

Yes, there are IT departments that continue to have their companies locked down on the Blackberry, but it’s unlikely the the new operating system won’t create sufficient migration issues that they won’t move to either iOS, Android or both as supported platforms.

The real problem is that their touchscreen product cannot possibly provide enough unique functionality to justify the choice over the iPhone or Android at the medium to high end.  At the low end, they cannot possibly underprice the Android ecosystem.

Damned if they do, Damned if they don’t

In other words, if they abandon their customer-defined differentiator (keyboard), they’ll lose all differentiation in the market.  If they don’t, they are left with an eroding, minority share of a market that is likely insufficient in size and economics to fund their continued development and support of a competitive mobile ecosystem.  As a developer, spending precious resources on this, at best, stagnant minority pool of potential users is tough to justify.

Microsoft can play this game, for a while, because they (still) have relatively unlimited free cash flow and a desktop platform that still boasts hundreds of millions of users.  Blackberry doesn’t.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Raj #

    Adam: I agree with you. Eventually their best bet might be to sell the company to a cash-rich smartphone wannabe like Lenovo or Dell or facebook.

    January 30, 2013
  2. Chris Yeh #

    I look forward to when BlackBerry goes bankrupt and Google buys their keyboard patents and starts making/licensing a decent physical keyboard for Android phones. They all suck.

    January 31, 2013
  3. iPhone = not a perceived increased productivity. It’s actual. Blackberry sat on top of their smartphone thrown for so long and did little to innovate.

    Being related to a blackberry engineer and a Canadian, I would be happy if they did something to actually be a competitor. And so, I agree with you. But a name change and a new operating system seems like a desperate attempt (Again) to stay in the game.

    Surprised they are still afloat.

    January 31, 2013
  4. Brenda #

    I guess for the Techies…..you can state your claim to what is missing/good/needed….but for me…stictly a functional-user with a business need in terms of application, I am excited about the touchpad because the ity bity keyboard in prior generations of the BB needed upgrading. I do miss the functionality of the BB.

    January 31, 2013
    • I will admit, I’m completely confused as to why anyone who wants a touchscreen wouldn’t get an iPhone or Android device at this point.

      January 31, 2013
  5. IMO, Dell should buy them. Unique offering for business segment

    March 24, 2013

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