Feb 232011
 
The State of Blackberry

How did it come to this.  The messaging revolution.  The patented keyboard.  The innovative user interface.  The security surrounding the entire solution.

I remember when the BlackBerry was the best messaging device around and when being the best messaging device in a smartphone world was good enough to do well in.  What happened?  Why is RIM losing now?  The same reason many other companies fail, they stayed too stagnant for too long.  Granted they released new devices, new OS versions, etcetera, but they never strayed far from where they started.  To be fair they probably were afraid too.  They had a good thing going, a good niche.  Why rock the boat?  Well cause if you don’t someone else will, and in this case their boat is being buffeted hard from waves by Apple and Google (see image).  Where can they go from here?  A steady decline into destruction like Palm? Can their incremental upcoming changes with the Playbook, revamped app store, QNX acquisition pull them back into the forefront?  I have answers, only time will tell if I’m right.

To get right to the point, what RIM needs to do is create a BlackBerry app for Android and iOS.  They need to take their gold standard messaging solution; email, contacts, calendar, notes, tasks, and package the enterprise grade functionality of it into one application that can run on android and iOS.  Crazy? Nope, they sort of did it before, remember Blackberry Connect?  It was an application that ran on other handsets, most notably the Nokia E61 and Treo 650.  Here’s a refresher on Blackberry Connect.  It really was a failure, the very few handsets the software worked on gave you a crippled Blackberry experience at best.  But this new BlackBerry app could work this time, in fact it could reinvent blackberry.  The app could carve up an encrypted section of storage for itself on the device.  This partition would contain the whole world the app knows about in order to function as its own BlackBerry device.  So if this application was enterprise activated on a corporate BES server and the administrator issued a remote wipe command it would simply securely delete the encryption key and kill the partition.  Its world now gone, user’s personal data just as it were, untouched.  With a good licensing model Blackberry could profit more getting this app on Android devices and the iPhone over the costs associated with making their own handsets.  They can continue with their handsets but this will give them a vertical market that they can own and apply their years of expertise to while seeing if they can sustain/revamp their hardware and antiquated OS in todays world of a new android handheld every month.

Now I thought I came up with this idea by myself.  Turns out there is a company, Good Technology doing this today with their own software.  Now last I knew about Good around the 2003-2005 time frame they were a wannabe Blackberry competitor and a bad one at that.  Their devices were horrible and software unpolished and lacking.  Now after a couple changes and a reinvention of sorts they are filling a void where there is no one else.  You have these millions of iPhones and Android devices out there, and this old school world of security conscious enterprises with Blackberries.  Where do you get the great corporate security, manageability, accountability, messaging, etcetera but with the consumer grade iPhone’s and Android handsets?  Please don’t mention ActiveSync lest I laugh myself into oblivion.  That will have to be another topic.  Now Good is providing just that.  They have an application in the Apple App Store and on the Android Marketplace that does just what I’ve described above but with Good Messaging, not BlackBerry messaging.  I’ve demoed their software for 2 weeks on a Nexus S, iPhone, and iPad and it does work and offer better security and better corporate management over ActiveSync.  However I still felt like I was running their software in a Windows 95 emulator.  Various things felt like they were unpolished, unfinished, or not carefully thought out for usability.  If Blackberry entered this arena, once again they could own the field as they did when they more direct competed with Good back in early 2000’s.  They would really just have to integrate the BlackBerry world into an application, integrating with the UI of the native OS as closely as possible and adding some nice features.

I remember how I felt about Blackberry they day I gave up my Motorola SkyTel 2-way pager and grabbed the 950 on the data packet based Mobitex network.  It was the beginning of the best enterprise messaging the world has ever seen.  Now with app store’s that eclipse theirs in quantity and quality, devices that eclipse theirs in features, performance, innovation and choice, they are being boiled down to just that core software base.  If they don’t make a move soon, the value with that will diminish, the world will move on, new models will rise, ActiveSync might get more and more acceptable considering the trade-offs by more and more enterprises.  Part of me thinks that only if they continue to lose market share, lose users, would they ever decide to take this model on as Good did.  I hope they are smart enough to try to execute it before that time.  If not, then I hope they continue losing so they have a shot of winning again.

Update [02.28.2011]: Here is another company that will start doing what I described above RIM should do.  Except they are really dividing the entire device into an enterprise side and personal side, interesting take….  They are called Enterproid and might even try to emulate a BlackBerry messenger of sorts.  Great write-up by CNET on it. The window of opportunity for RIM to make a move here is closing.  If they continue to hold on to their old model it will simply crumble around them.  I’ll see if I can try out Enterproid and give a write up on it.

Update [06.22.2011]: RIM, You’re Done Here – MobileCrunch