BlackBerry’s Return: Here’s what I think

I’ve been following the regeneration of the BlackBerry brand for some time now. And with the launch of their “redemption” effort, the new Z10, I’ve decided to weigh-in on the debate. Granted, it’s a bit late, but hey – I can’t help get excited when a new contender enters the smartphone arena. Especially when that contender was a previous king, and had been dethroned by an ambitious young upstart.

So, when Apple announced the iPhone, they really shook the mobile space with a groundbreaking new way of interacting with a mobile device. The touchscreen became a major interface between human and technology, and the concept of the “app” propagated itself with the rise of Apple’s App Store, and the subsequent follow-ups by its competitors (Android Marketplace, BlackBerry App World).

Thus, I feel that BlackBerry’s Z10 enters the picture a few years too late (and a few years, in the technology space, is a really long time). iPhone and Android have established themselves as strong contenders. Windows Phone OS has been a constant third player, never quite cutting it to be part of the “cool club” of the first two, but always a potent alternative. With the recent Nokia-Microsoft mobile partnership, we’ve seen the brand hit quite well too. But as for BlackBerry…?

BlackBerry hedges its hopes on this new platform. And it does deliver some interesting innovations – the user experience is refreshing, and there are a few nifty additions like the timeshift camera, flick-to-type keyboard and “flow”. But again, the real test rests in whether these features can lure users so embedded in the Andorid or iOS ecosystems, because that’s the true market BlackBerry will need to be after.

What the company truly needs – more than just fancy new features and a slick new operating system – is to create this ecosystem. To create an holistic platform that can rival the might of iOS and Android. And I’m afraid that they might be too late to the party to really get hold of that already-set market… for the future of the company and its employees, I truly hope they can make it happen.

Research in Motion: A Lesson in What Arrogance Does to You

It seems like the famous BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion, just cannot catch a break. But then again, I don’t think they can afford to take a break these days. Their recent earnings call for Q1 2013 sent tech blogs into a frenzy, spectating the imminent death of the company that made mobile email possible.

Here in South Africa, it’s difficult to perceive the BlackBerry brand in any sort of financial trouble. Almost every second person can be seen immersed in a Bold or a Curve, texting away on the device’s “killer app” – BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). South Africa, after all, is often capsulated as an entity seperated from the rest of the technological world (I’m reminded of SA comedian, Trevor Noah, remarking that “the rest of the world goes in one direction… and we go this way…”).

Yet the truth is that, worldwide, Research in Motion has not managed to keep up with the explosive force of Apple, Inc’s iPhone (arguably the device that started the smartphone app revolution) and Samsung’s Android-powered phones (the carbon copy versions of Apple’s innovation). Nokia, another struggling smartphone brand, has managed to set a path that could help redeem themselves as a leading smartphone vendor: they’ve partnered with Microsoft, using Redmond’s Windows Phone 8 operating system on their new hardware.

But RIM, despite seeing the signs right before their eyes, did nothing to counter the iPhone’s force when Steve Jobs announced his vision of the mobile revolution to the world. The Canadian company continued to use their (by now) outdated business practices, churning out sub-par phones marred by aged software, slow hardware and appalling industrial design. In essence, they were arrogant.

RIM thought that their dominance in the mobile email revolution would be sufficient to help them ride-out the iPhone storm.

How wrong they were… now, 5000 talented engineers and Research in Motion workers will be laid-off in one of the company’s biggest employment shifts to-date. Furthermore, they’re delaying their already-late redemption effort, BlackBerry 10 (a new operating system and series of phones) to “early calendar-2013.” In fact, some are even speculating that RIM might go the Nokia route, and use Windows Phone 8 through a Microsoft partnership.

But the Waterloo, Ontario-based company has already dug too deep a trench for them to get out of swiftly; now, only time will tell if they can get back to the high they were once at. For me, my days of BlackBerry might be coming to an end now too – I was one of those “fans” who had decided that, before jumping ship to iPhone, I’d see what BlackBerry 10 would be like. I’d give it a last chance. But this delay is the last strand – and for many, Apple’s upcoming sixth-generation iPhone, being heralded as the “biggest consumer electronics launch in history”, may be the salvation we’re waiting for after the horrors of the BlackBerry.