RIM: Lessons for Google and Apple
The latest offering from RIM (err, Blackberry), Blackberry 10, is as mediocre as we were afraid it would be.
It’s not revolutionary, or even special by any means. Sure, a few bells and whistles we’ve never seen from RIM are present, but overall it falls short of what it needs to be. What we needed to see was something so sublime, so intrinsically powerful and gorgeous, it amazed us. What we got was well something that could have been released 18 months ago when RIM stopped producing phones.
As we pull up lawn chairs to watch the RIM parade die in a cul-de-sac, we wonder what lessons can be learned. Hindsight is always 20/20, so let’s use this opportunity to take notes while it’s all fresh in our minds. Is Apple doomed to follow suit, or will their strong presence see them through? Is Google in a good position to avoid the pitfalls RIM fell into?
In discussing this, we’ll cover three main points for each company’s mobile platform: The operating system, the ecosystem, and the hardware.
RIM is dying out, poised to sell pieces of themselves off. Will they attempt to save themselves, severing a limb to save the body? They could, but the wise move is to sell what you can now for the best price possible and walk away. Already a piece of mobile tech history, the Blackberry has just lost too much ground for a comeback to be relevant.
RIM’s Blackberry OS was important upon inception. It was the first bit of mobile tech designed for a purpose: business. It was marketed and structured around productivity and communication. A bit dated now, it was the best thing around at the time of induction into the mobile landscape. So what went wrong? How did something so great become so… bad?
Mobile technology is nimble and dynamic, changing all the time. The Blackberry OS simply stagnated and became tired very quickly. As soon as they saw competition from Apple and Android, RIM immediately became a third-rate platform. RIM believed that being good at enterprise would seal the deal for them, and those that relied on it for business would see them through. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and may never be the case again, as is evident by Apple and Android both leading RIM in terms of enterprise solutions. When your bread and butter dries up, you’ve nowhere to turn.
The Blackberry ecosystem was never really better than anything out there. It was easily dismissed because we considered the Blackberry a means of mobile connection, and second-best to Apple and the App Store. Once Google came along with Android, it really began to warp and break apart. That rusty old ship never really sailed, so it’s not quite fair to compare it apples to Apple’s.
It did, however, have every advantage. First to market, first with an audience. Like Microsoft, RIM was a business-first company and not very inventive. What they actually did achieve with products like Blackberry Messenger was not triumphant enough. Social and inventive, BBM simply didn’t capture us well enough to keep us around. The real issue? Nope, not apps… media.
Apps are fun, but we desire media now, and even then. One of the major plusses Apple had over RIM in the early days was the ability to access a robust app store. It all happened so quickly, too. RIM was left with it’s trackballs in hand, wondering what the hell just happened.
Like everything else in the RIM universe, the hardware simply showed up. With the advent of the iPhone, the world became enamored with touchscreen. All the pinching, and zooming, and swiping… it was all so fun! Once again, RIM thought mobile devices were for business. They were, and are, wrong.
Most people don’t, and didn’t, need enterprise solutions. We liked having a cell phone, but the premium cost and limited function of a smartphone was just not worth it for the average consumer. As the iPhone grew in popularity, and Android took shape, the average person became interested in smartphones. It was a lot more than checking email and viewing documents. It was fun, and we could do more with it. Rather than a concomitant to our lives, it was becoming central. The device is little more than a gateway to the ecosystem, and competing ecosystems were just plain better.
Apple is often credited for starting the modern mobile industry. They were technically second to the starting line, but once the race started, none of that mattered. Apple took what RIM was doing and beat them senseless at it. We wanted devices to keep us connected, but we wanted to have fun also. Apple innovated, while RIM rested on it’s laurels.
Apple’s iOS for mobile was, from the very beginning, a breath of fresh air. It worked wonderfully, and was like nothing anyone had seen before. It was the first OS that actually seemed to make sense to our mindset, and didn’t ask us to think like the machine. It was an OS centered around us.
As Android becomes stronger and more robust, iOS seems befuddled by what to do next. It may have simply run its course, as there haven’t been any real improvements in quite some time. Some will argue that it was always much better, but that simply isn’t the case now.
Apple’s one true trump card: the app store. The App Store was the first of it’s kind, and already established with the iPod by the time the iPhone came out. Having been the first of it’s kind, the content was easy to obtain. Nobody to challenge the deal, and nobody to negotiate against. It was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for anyone who wanted to be involved. Between the apps and media, the app store couldn’t be beat.
With Google’s Play Store growing daily, it’s only a matter of time before Android is staring iOS dead in the eye and challenging it for media dominance. Apple certainly has the most to offer, but those days are coming to a close soon. The days of an iPod being necessary are dead, and new challengers rise daily to fill the voids. Pandora is one of many radio services available, and Amazon has as good an offering of media and movies as Apple. With the Amazon mp3 player available on Android, it only weakens Apple’s position.
A breath of fresh air when it came to fruition, the iPhone is now behind the times. A fabulous screen is great for all that media, but things have evolved significantly. The iPhone also had the best camera, but that’s all changed with newer Android devices such as the HTC One X or Nexus 4. Where is the NFC on an Apple device? Google Now is just plain better than Siri, and more polished to boot. The iPhone may be in the hall of fame, though it’s also still playing the game.
Where Apple falls short is the lack of variety with hardware. That lack of variety only makes it easier for aftermarket accessories, but one phone does not fit every person. Accessories are good fun, but we need function. We need services. We want variety. Android is open source and has a ton of potential, and it seems Apple has run out of that.
Can they survive?
The space in which Apple is different is the ecosystem. It really is the one saving grace for Apple, but it also has a flaw. Google’s Music Match will take a look at your iTunes music library and find a suitable replacement on Google Music. If one can’t be found, you can simply upload your file. There is also Amazon or Netflix, if you utilize their services.
There is a secret, though. Apple has something that nobody can question, or even match. The Apple userbase is so ingrained, so thoroughly invested in their products and ecosystem, there is no possible way they can fail. Say what you will about them, Android fans, but they’re probably more fiercely loyal than we. A fanbase like that only means you’re doing things right, even if it’s on a smaller scale than your biggest competitor.
What started as another Google start-up purchase has grown into the largest, most powerful mobile platform around. While not without its pitfalls, the upside is still huge. Refusing to plateau into “good”, Android strives for “great”, and is getting there quickly. Every Android iteration brings new innovation, and the open source nature of it means endless opportunity.
Here’s a statement that may blow your mind: there is no such thing as an actual Android OS. It’s true. Yes, there is stock Android, and each manufacturer puts their spin on it. There are rooted phones with flashed ROMs, and themes made by the user. So, how can there be no Android OS, right?
With iOS or BB, there is a very unified way of doing things. If you ask me how to do something, I say “oh, you do X and Y, then you get Z.” Simple, clean, and boring. With Android, I know what I do, but what do you do? I have a Nexus 4 with stock Android, but you may have a Cyanogen nightly build. Hell, I don’t even know what theme you have! A customizable OS is suitable for each individual, and doesn’t ask us to alter how we approach things.
What we have is a seed, or kernel if you will, in Android. Seeds grow wherever you plant them, so as long as people keep innovating, Android will flourish. Stock Android is already arguably better than iOS, and it’s still got a lot of promise. The developers who build ROMs are always diligently bringing new ideas and new life to Android. So long as the innovation continues, there is no limit to Android.
Still behind Apple in terms of content, the Play Store is growing daily. The real achilles heel is media, as everything from magazines to movies is still finding it’s way. What we don’t see is the negotiation behind the scenes. Did some of these studios or publishers sign an agreement with Apple that prevents them from having content on the Play Store? We don’t know, but there are some definite gaps that Google needs to fill before we’re ready to call the Play Store viscerally better than Apple’s app store.
The hardware is our physical link to the content we crave, so it’s important that it fit what we want. As Google only has a hand in the Nexus line, it’s up to the manufacturer to decide what they want to do. Android being open source is a gift and a curse, but variety is the spice of life. I love my Nexus 4, but you may really like that Note 2. I enjoy the Nexus 7, but that Acer Iconia Tab may be your workhorse. It’s all Android, and that’s the variety we enjoy. You can get fed up with your phone tomorrow, and go get a completely different set of hardware specs… but keep your operating system. You lose nothing, and get all that you want.
RIM is the first domino piece to fall in the smartphone world. Apple has a loyal fanbase, which will always give them a place in the market. Pay attention next time you go out, and you will still see more iPhones than Android devices. People who have iPhones and iPads love them, and use them often. Their cross platform offering is still too proprietary to win, and they’re jettisoning management like they’re going out of business, but a loyal customer base is a rock solid foundation.
Android is in the best position to succeed and avoid all the mistakes of their predecessors. Google has made some very savvy decisions with Android, and it will carry them through. The open source nature allows for more variety in both OS and hardware, a huge issue with both RIM and Apple. The Play Store is growing daily, and all the services we love operate in the cloud, making it a truly cross platform offering. While having Motorola makes Google much more like the other two, they aren’t intrinsically identified as the same company.
Being flexible is important in the mobile landscape, and Android is the first (and only) platform to truly understand that. A rolling stone gathers no moss, and Android just keeps moving along.