Posted in Concepts, Marketing
4/08 2010

The BlackBerry Torch – Can it Save RIM?

Many pundits believed that BlackBerry knew they had to pull something amazing our of their hats with the new BlackBerry and their new operating system. There is, then, a rather lot of surprise that RIM has failed to do just that.

RIM Today

Where is BlackBerry today? They are on the defensive on their traditional stronghold of corporate sales. High-value consumers are flocking to the iPhone and Android phones. RIM is picking up the bottom of the smartphone market. The BlackBerry App market is expensive to develop for and users are neither downloading nor buying a lot of apps. If they continue down this road they will have two markets to compete in, high security governmental traffic and the bottom of the market.

So given this, the BlackBerry OS6 needed to be something really special to put BlackBerries back in contention with high-value consumers, developers and corporate types. It was always going to be a hard task, but there does seem to be indignation with what RIM has delivered, a kind of feeling of “Is that it?”

The Good

Of course, it’s not all bad. RIM has delivered some excellent newness with their latest offering. Take the slide out keyboard, it’s ingenious. RIM is known for the quality of their keyboards, so they are right to capitalise on that. Neither Apple nor most Android phones are taking that route. Yet the whole industry is going touch, so RIM has covered both basis in an excellent hardware package.

What else is good? Well RIM has played to another of its strengths by making BlackBerry Messenger(BBM) more solid and supporting conversations with several users. I doubt BBM is sufficient to lock people into the platform, but it helps. Also, wireless syncing of media is really important, although I do wonder if this is not done exceedingly well, it might be too difficult to use.

RIM has also tried to make it easier and more profitable to develop for the platform. Having an engaged and enthusiastic developer community is essential to the survival of any smartphone platform – just ask Google. I’m not convinced they’ve done enough. Have they really reduced the cost of developing on BlackBerry? Not enough to keep developers away from Apple and Android.

The Missed Opportunities

So where has RIM missed the boat? Well hardware design is subjective, but the new BlackBerry Torch looks too much like a three year old BlackBerry – it’s not sexy, not modern looking – it’s a Grandpa phone. God knows how old it will look two years down the line when I’m looking at the iPhone 6. Also on the hardware side, RIM has fitted a low resolution screen to a device that needs to have a high resolution to compete with iPhone. Their hardware package as a whole is not competitive.

On the software side, it’s hard to evaluate without spending quality time with a device. But from what has been said, BlackBerry OS6 seems to be an evolution of the previous OS. It still feels old and tired. An old OS with some more bling a new modern OS does not make.

Will OS6 and the Torch enable RIM to become relevant again? I doubt it very much. I don’t see this as a compelling package and I do rather fear that RIM will continue to trundle along, losing market share, particularly in the US, and with that see a declining profitability. The question is how long it will take for AT&T to discount the Torch?

Conclusion

The lesson from this for Product Managers is not only that it’s important to understand your strengths as a company, but also to understand what you need to be competitive in the marketplace. RIM’s lack of understanding of the importance of a decent screen, and the need to set a new standard for BlackBerries at this point in the product lifecycle is a disaster for the company. 

Play to your strengths and meet the needs of the market elsewhere.