Would the Last Blackberry User Please Turn Out the Lights? I Already Left the Building

Posted on Dec 15, 2012 | 112 comments


My Blackberry died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.

It seems so long ago that we had to start hiding our Blackberry’s in our pockets to avoid always being chastised.

If you were caught sending out an email on your Blackberry you had to quickly whip out your iPhone to show that – wait! – I have one of these, too.

It is stunning to think about the blind spots that market leaders can develop. For years Palm had such a significant lead in the PDA market it seemed inconceivable that they would be replaced.

I remember when I first saw one advertised in a magazine when I was on a flight from England to the US. I was the proud owner of a Psion, founded by the company Bill Gates once famously said he feared more than any other. I bought a Palm when I landed, ditched my Psion and never looked back. The Psion was cool because it had a keyboard and could do lots of stuff. But it was too big, too clunky and too hard to use the most basic of functionality.

Why did people use Palm Pilot’s in the first place? To do 3 simple things: contacts, calendar, tasks. That was fine when the Palm first became popular. But over time email became pervasive in our culture.

And email was the most obvious thing they were missing. And by obvious I mean – the slowness of Palm’s response to having email has got to go down as one of the most obvious blunders in technology history. This was not the Innovator’s Dilemma at hand – adding email would not have disrupted their business.

Yet their business was disrupted entirely by email because a small company called Research in Motion came out with a device that did email flawlessly – the Blackberry. And it turns out that – duh! – we all needed email.

Buh-bye. Palm obliterated.

The first time I saw a Blackberry I ditched my Palm. Mobile email without getting out my laptop and connecting to the Internet? Wha’? Sign me up.

Blackberry’s were cool. They were a status symbol of young bankers, consultants and tech execs. They then became uber-cool and used by rappers and other musicians and were seen at the coolest LA & NY nightclubs. BBM was the rage. Blackberry Messaging.

I think I have owned nearly every version of the Blackberry.

I remember distinctly when I saw my first iPhone.  I was living in Palo Alto on the exact same street at Steve Jobs and could walk to the Apple Store he frequented. Yet I didn’t have the same reaction as I did to the Palm and the Blackberry.

Why?

For starters remember that when the iPhone launched they didn’t have an App Store so the Apps were fairly limited.

Most people bought it as a phone and an Internet browser. And for the first two years it was only on AT&T. Which is ironic because anybody who lives in Palo Alto will tell you that there was almost no AT&T cell coverage near us – including on Waverley Street.

I mostly didn’t buy it because I’m a big content producer. And by content I mean email. It was how I got through the daily routine of finding the most urgent to-do’s I had and processing them quickly (or at all).

I tried the HTC Incredible as my Blackberry companion device. But it was anything but incredible. I lasted a few months and ditched it. I WANTED to believe. But I couldn’t suspend disbelief that it was anything but a poor cousin to the iPhone. Maybe Android devices are great by now. But it’s hard to go back.

DANG that iPhone browser was beautiful. I was jealous watching all my friends surf the web on their iPhones. And all the Apps. Instagram and the like.

I didn’t get my first one – believe it or not – until 2010.  I had to keep 2 devices. I carried my iPhone and Blackberry everywhere – one in each pocket. I once took a picture at a breakfast with three of us all with our iPhones on top of our Blackberry’s. I called it, “Apples on Blackberries” and felt very clever. Nobody else felt the same way ;-)

Note that nobody put their Blackberry on top of their iPhone.

Why did I have both? iPhone became my media consumption device. I used it to browse the web. I used it for Apps. And maps. And phone calls (once they had Verizon).

I upgraded my Blackberry three times. Each time I was sure that THIS was the time they’d fix their browser. They’d figure out how to get Apps installed more easily. They’d become something more than an email device. Ah … that keyboard!

But they never did it. For years. And I concluded …

RIM must be run by morons. They had a two-headed CEO role.  They came across as quite arrogant thinking that they would always be the corporate device and iPhone was just a toy. Where Mark Zuckerberg always seems paranoid about competition and industry change – they seemed oblivious to it.

I suffered through years of trying to get that gawd-awful browser on the Blackberry to work. I wasted hours trying to download apps.

And then I did it. I quit my Blackberry. I felt like I gave up smoking. I knew I had to go cold turkey.

I never believed the people who said you could type as fast on an iPhone once you got used to it. I still don’t.

Most people I know who gave up their Blackberry’s just write shorter emails and respond to less. And I decided that’s probably not half bad.

But wait! There’s Blackberry 10 coming out next year to save RIM! See this stock chart?!? See!! Up 86% in just 6 months!

Bollocks.

Once you’ve become this uncool a comeback in near impossible. Yes, I know Apple did it. But Apple enthusiasts never lost faith. Blackberry enthusiast is an oxymoron these days.

Everybody briefly routes for the underdog to revive itself. And as market enthusiasts we all want strong competition. Look at the chart below of Palm right after they made announcements about their new operating system that was going to revive their fortunes.

Dead. Cat. Bounce.

Blackberry (RIM) will not survive as an independent company. Microsoft will buy it. Or somebody similar. They will use it to try and capture phone market share. I called this publicly 2 years ago. It has taken longer than I expected.

Why can’t it revive?

  • It is nearly impossible to go from grossly uncool to even mildly ok.
  • We are in a world where the eco-system matters and that means app developers. Who would sink their money into a moribund ecosystem?
  • RIM doesn’t have a “core” business that can revive its fortunes in the way Microsoft does

So would the last Blackberry user please turn out the light on your way out? I have already left the building.

[update: a very small number of people have taken this way to seriously, gotten WAY too angry, so I feel the need for a small update. There weren't many people and most tended to agree but those who didn't went all TROLL on me on Twitter.

1. I was not truly embarrassed to have a Blackberry. If I were I would have given it up ages ago. Anybody who knows me knows how long I defended my Blackberry. And almost all of my Tweets came from my Blackberry because it was easier to type

2. The style of the article was intentionally tongue-in-cheek. If you couldn't tell that from the opening line then, well, I guess you're never going to realize it.

3. The article is not an attack in Canada or Canadians. RIM is not a country, it's a company. And it used to be a great one.

4. No, I have not played with the Blackberry 10. That's my point. I gave up before they could even bother to ship it. I think the train has left the station. Might I be proved wrong? Sure. Stranger things have happened. But isn't it more fun to be out there with opinions?

5. Yes. You heard it here first. This was an opinion article. So no need to attack me as not being a professional "journalist" because guess what - I'm not. Lucas Atkins - aka @B4BBLucas - you give away your bias in your Twitter handle. Since you're obviously "all in" on BB I guess no need to pre-register @N4iPhoneLucas?. Chill. It's just a point of view. And if I'm wrong then obviously your Twitter handle will have several more years of life. Congratulations.

6. If you think I got it wrong - no prob. I'm happy to hear what you have to say in the comments. And let's have an honest debate.

7. For the person who was offended by Dead Cat Bounce - I had purposely put the link in there in case you didn't get the reference (just as I did with the opening sentence). It's a term from finance - I didn't invent it.

8. An overabundance of people have interpreted this post as suggesting that iPhone is going to win in the end. I was not arguing for that. I believe there will be healthy competition between Android & iOS. Longer term my gut would bet on Android. Or something we haven't seen by 2012. Just not RIM.]

  • Munch Hausen

    Why oh why would you address the Twitter Trolls? Let them be; they have 6 followers each and they still live with their parents. Great article; great insight!

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    Phil – I agree with your points, but not sure that’s what is going on here. Yes, RIM had 5-6 different models vs. 1 for iPhone, but that comparison happens in every segment Apple is in (I saw a talk 2 weeks ago comparing the number of Apple computer brands (6) compared to Dell (42) and HP (49). Yes, sometimes too much choice can be bad).

    The issue is they never innovated on the things that were clearly important to users. First and foremost, that email would always be the driving force of a mobile device. If they had built a better browser and third party ecosystem (the two main drivers Mark mentioned), then I would surmise they would still be relevant. To be fair, chances are good that the CIO’s of the enterprises that were making up the bulk of RIM’s revenues didn’t care about a better browser and third party ecosystem – it was more important to them that the system be secure and locked down so CIO’s could control it.

    So – Apple and Android were indeed major disruptive forces in this space. And I personally believe that the reason the speed was so fast was that these devices are not that expensive to swap out – compared to trying to swap out Oracle from your infrastructure. I certainly don’t think RIM was ever evil or misleading, they just wildly misjudged the market and Apple/Google made it very easy for people to switch devices.

  • http://www.justanentrepreneur.com Philip Sugar

    I am not saying RIM was evil or misleading at all. I think we totally agree. You make a Faustian bargain when you sell to the CIO, although I don’t view it as evil. You basically say, yes, I will give you what you want because you are going to pay me a ton of money.

    In this case the user in addition to email really wanted a cool way to waste time. Don’t get me wrong, having sat on a plane for 10 hours last Tuesday I want to waste time. I want to play Scrabble, I need to listen to music, I want all those other things.

    But to the CIO? They are verbotten. We also agree you are not going to rip out your ERP system like you are with phones.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    yes, we totally agree. Let’s leave it at that :)

  • http://www.justanentrepreneur.com Philip Sugar

    I appreciate you making me think on this one.

    You know I think in the areas where work and personal have merged you have to satisfy the user even if it means alienating “the enterprise”

    The phone is ultimate merger of work and personal. If you say absolutely no personal on work phones they will sit in the desk at the office. There are other examples like dropbox, etc, where users are getting work done on personal time.

    It will be interesting to see how far this extends. I don’t think it will be the complete consumerization of the enterprise because the “core” systems however, are going to stay for a long time.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    No doubt – the consumerization of IT was the story of 2012 and will continue in 2013. It’s a tough balance – I get the needs of IT to have some systems locked down, but personal productivity extends well beyond the enterprise software solutions that a company provides – again, it’s not just about email anymore.

    But I’m a big fan of “open” – open source, open choices. Where information truly needs to be locked down, go ahead and do it. But otherwise, make things as open as possible and give people the tools they need to be productive. I think that’s the direction we’re headed…

  • http://birch.co/ Mark Birch

    100% agree. BOYD destroyed RIM in the enterprise. I hardly even see them anymore on Wall Street except by the real old-timers that will never switch (the physical keyboard is key).

    Anyone that is championing RIM these days is either delusional or works for the company.

  • http://birch.co/ Mark Birch

    The bizarre thing is Apple nailed the OS, so they obviously have software chops, it just does not translate to other parts of the business. iTunes, social apps, office apps, etc. are all a train wreck…or a dead cat bounce ;)

  • David Lopez

    I won’t give it to Apple, Android or RIM. I think some startup out there will create a even more popular device than anything Apple or Android can come up with!

  • http://malharbarai.com/ Malhar Barai

    With all bad things about them, you can’t take away the fact that they introduced ‘enterprise’ to mobility, but then couldn’t withstand the onslaught by either Apple or Google devices.

  • http://www.ryanborn.net ryanborn

    Love the dead cat bounce reference!

  • http://velocitylocal.com/ Velocity Local

    Well written article. Yeah I do agree with you. Blackberry need more innovations on their phones right now. This is due to Iphone and android’s technological advances. Are there any more models of blackberry to come?