The other day I went into AT&T to get a new phone (alas, my old phone had taken its last breath.) I was approached by what seemed to be an AT&T employee who tried convincing me to get the BlackBerry. After conversing with him a little longer I learned that, in fact, he was not an AT&T employee but a representative of BlackBerry. He told to me that he was part of large team of salespeople RIM had deployed throughout the AT&T stores to drive shoppers to buy the grossly underselling BlackBerrys.
It is almost hard to imagine that just a few years ago BlackBerry phones monopolized the smartphone industry with 60% of market share—dwarfing all other options (see graph of smartphone ownership in 2006). The short, wide little phones once dominated the smartphone marketplace and were a professional and social status symbol.
But those days are long gone. BlackBerrys now have just 6% of the market share and the numbers keep falling. Investors are also weary of RIM with the stock now trading at about 5% of what it was worth at its peak in 2008. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal confirmed that BlackBerry is now making $1 billion in cuts including the elimination of thousands jobs to keep the company going. A Bloomberg report details the delay of the release of the Blackberry 10 and the massive operating losses RIM has seen this year.
So what happened? How did the empire fall?
Even now, with the release of the much improved BlackBerry Bold, BlackBerry’s operating system lends to an incompetent browser experience. Web pages take much longer to load on BlackBerrys than any other phone and navigating them is not smooth. Click on the screenshot on the right to see one of many web browser “Face—Off”s in which the BlackBerry web browser loading time and experience is compared with other phones.
The second major issue is the app world. BlackBerry was late to jump on the app world bandwagon and, once they did, they decided to take a more “professional” approach which ultimately harmed them. BlackBerrys were known to be work phones–often supplied to users by the companies they worked for. To maintain what BlackBerry saw as part of their motto of “professionalism”, they took a very hard line on letting applications through the door. Apps had to have a professional related purpose.
Unlike RIM, Apple and Google (representing the IPhone and Android) decided to put the choice into the users hand giving each phone access to all sorts of apps, and letting each person make the choice of which apps they wanted to use. The results were predictable; BlackBerrys now have about one seventh of the apps available on the IPhone and Android.
Despite the deplorable fall from glory which BlackBerry has seen, we still must not disregard it completely. There are still 77 million BlackBerry users worldwide—a significant amount of people. The brand is still very much alive and is working hard to redeem itself. BlackBerry has a couple of significant selling points including their physical keyboard which many have a hard time parting with. They also were the first major smartphone and many people are just comfortable with Blackberry’s email system which is not matched by any of the others.
RIM is due to release the new “Blackberry 10” in 2013 which they hope will be a more suitable competition to the iPhone and Android.
Will their new phone save them? Well, that’s up to you to decide.
Interested in more: Read from some industry commentators
Digital Trends: There’s Still Hope for Blackberry
Fox News: Why We Still Need Blackberry
Testically: What Should RIM do to Keep Blackberry Alive?
Written by: Shuli Lowy