Android is a great operating system (I’d say the best overall), and I can see myself using it for at least the next five years. It may even become a desktop solution, if Google takes the right steps in that direction. But we should always encourage more competition in the market. Competition is a good thing for Google because it will have to innovate faster, and everyone else will have to keep up with its pace. Other companies will come with their own innovations, and the virtuous cycle will repeat itself.
This is why I’m excited about RIM’s Blackberry. I really want them to pull a comeback. I am not worried about RIM stealing any Android market share – at all. Maybe BB OS will slow down Android a bit in the enterprise sector, but let’s be honest here – Google isn’t exactly focusing on enterprise right now.
In fact, a successful RIM might actually hold off the onslaught of the iPhone in the enterprise area. In the process, BBOS might become the true third platform, which would pick up whatever market share is left after Android and iOS (~15% – but more than enough for RIM).
Here’s the main areas where I think RIM should channel its energies right now.
While an increasing number of employees are bringing their Android phones to work, and this trend will definitely continue, truth is, the iPhone is swiftly becoming the phone of choice in the corporate environment. And it’s not even that good of an enterprise phone. But it’s popular in general, and its popularity with consumers is influencing the enterprise market (the iPad has a big halo effect, too, in the enterprise sector).
However, RIM is still dominant in enterprise, and many companies were just waiting for the Canadians to finally make some modern phones. This is why RIM needs to go all-in with BB10, get as many partnerships as possible by the time they launch it, and port all their security and enterprise features, as well. In general, they should make sure that everything they deliver is flawless, even if BB10 doesn’t match Android or iOS in terms of functionality.
What RIM really needs to do is make its enterprise customers, its core market, happy. To achieve that, they need to avoid blunders like the lack of a native e-mail client on the Playbook. If their enterprise customers are missing anything — anything at all — from BB10 devices, they’ve failed.
Another thing that RIM desperately needs is a good base of quality apps (at least 5,000-10,000 at launch), and then to keep the momentum going with developers. I fear they will mess things up with the SDKs. I think they should give up on Java and on Dalvik apps, which I doubt that are going to do them much good, and just focus on native apps and perhaps HTML/JS embedded ones.
Then, they also need to convince carriers that they’re still a much more viable platform than WP7, almost as good as Android and iOS, and they are even better for enterprise customers. This is a BIG one. They must not treat this one lightly. Carrier relationships at launch will make or break BB10, even if they do everything else right. Get Verizon to do a $100 million marketing push, and also work with Vodafone or whoever for a big international launch.
I believe that RIM needs three devices at launch (kind of like HTC’s One strategy).
First, a high-end with very competitive hardware (for fall 2012, not spring 2012 as I fear they will do it) to compete with the new iPhone, the Galaxy S3, and the HTC One X or whatever their competitors will have by then. This high-end device should show that RIM means business as a top manufacturer, and excite early adopters over BB10. It needs to have a solid build, as well as an iconic design (the above image would be a great start for that). It should cost $200 on contract and have LTE.
Then, they need a mid-range device, with a physical keyboard and a 3-inch or so screen with 800×480 resolution, for enterprise and “Blackberry keyboard fanatics”. RIM needs to transition to touchscreen devices, but most of their loyal customers still want a keyboard device, especially the enterprise customers. It would be foolish to abandon the iconic QWERTY keyboard on the old BB7 and use BB10 only for touchscreen devices and the younger crowd. This mid-range device could be something like the Torch or the Bold, but it should have a touchscreen that is big enough for modern apps. It should cost $100 on contract and also have LTE.
Finally, RIM should come up with a low-end device, say with a 1Ghz processor and 800×480 resolution on a 3.7-4 inch display, for those “young people” that like BBM and want the latest and greatest Blackberry, but don’t have $700 to spend on a phone. It should be $50 on a lower-priced contract (most younger people can’t afford $100 monthly payments). I fear they will make these devices more expensive than this, because, well, they are RIM. That would be a terrible mistake on their part. RIM, just like Nokia, needs to learn that even if it uses another OS, it doesn’t mean it sells devices in complete isolation from everyone else. The Canadians still need to compete on features and pricing with everyone else, whether it’s Android OEMs or the mighty Apple.
I believe this is the best strategy for them. They really need to address all these markets with the new BB10 OS. But I fear they will only make one high-end touchscreen device. The problem with this strategy is RIM can’t afford to go slow and take one market at a time. I don’t think those three devices would create confusion among customers, because they are well separated and well targeted. If they make only one “hero” device and try to compete with the iPhone, they won’t sell too many BB10 devices, and they’ll have to leave most of their enterprise users on the old BB7. If there are too few devices sold, it will also negatively affect developer interest.
Optional (or maybe not)
So far, no other operating system made and owned by a single manufacturer has succeeded in the market against the iPhone. WebOS, Bada, Meego – they’ve all failed. In the current market, it’s almost impossible for any single company to push an entire ecosystem by its own, unless it completely changes the game for everybody, like Apple did in 2007. Heck, you could even say WP7 has largely failed, and it’s actually an OS pushed by multiple manufacturers. So again, the chances are very slim for a single manufacturer to build momentum around its OS, completely on its own.
I’d like to say that RIM still has a chance on its own with BB10, because they still have the enterprise market, where they dominate. Also, millions of people love BBM. But seeing the track record of everyone else, I’m not sure that RIM will succeed by going solo. And if they are wrong about it and BB10 fails to pick up momentum, it’s game over.
That’s why I think the best move for RIM would be to get Samsung, HTC, and perhaps even LG and Sony to adopt BB10, and accept them as competitors in the enterprise. I’m sure Samsung and HTC would like a boon in the enterprise world, but RIM will have to convince them first that they can be successful with BB10, and that RIM will compete fair and square. This may cause RIM some headaches, since they’ll have to walk on a very thin line to pull it off, but, ultimately, it may provide the only chance for BB10, and that matters a lot more.
I’ll admit that is very late for RIM to launch BB10. They’ve been arrogant for so long because they refused to face the truth that their devices aren’t competitive with Android phones and the iPhone. They looked at the numbers, and saw that their devices are selling well, so obviously there’s no threat from Android and iPhone, right? Wrong. You shouldn’t look at revenues to see if you are competitive. You should look at the products. That’s what will really tell you if you’re competitive or not. RIM didn’t do that and it cost them a lot. It may even cost them their existence if BB10 fails.
The only reason RIM’s financial numbers looked good for so long was because they were still selling many devices in countries where Android phones or iPhones hadn’t yet take off. But they should’ve seen it coming. They should’ve realized that it’s only a matter of time before their customers worldwide put 2 and 2 together and see that Blackberries are not as good as iOS and Android devices.
Since it’s so late for them, they really need to make sure they get this launch right. If they fail, it’s going to be the very last time when the media cares about RIM. They have one shot and one shot only to get it right.