This week has been about BlackBerry. The company, formerly called Research In Motion, unveiled a late-to-the-party operating system – BlackBerry 10 – and two new phones (one of which, the Z10, is now on sale). Apparently BlackBerry has a great PR team, though, because most headlines have been positive and any negative news has been subdued. It will get your attention, but will it sell phones?
Not influenced by any of this promotion, I think I can speak objectively and decisively when I say that the future of this device and the entire company is, uh, uncertain.
The evils of comparison
Many of the reviews I've read tend to make the mistake of lining up specs and comparing processors or cameras. This is irrelevant because these phones are about psychological impact. How does the phone make you feel? Is it a joy to use? Does it wow you every so often? Do you pull it out and proudly show it off to your friends? At this point in the ever-complex and evolving smartphone market, nothing is really about specs and thus we have no clue if these phones are going to save BlackBerry.
Curious meandering of RIM
Research In Motion or RIM, as the company was previously known, was founded in 1984 and its claim to fame was the invention of the interactive pager. When the 950 started shipping in the summer of 1998, it set the executive world on fire and was soon dubbed the CrackBerry.
As conditions changed, it became clear that the device must morph into a phone, which it did. But it kept its roots by focusing on email, which carried it right into the modern Apple-inspired smartphone era and then slammed it against a brick wall. It became clear that the iPhone was going to dominate the world. Everyone jumped on the new trend and the biggest success story was Google's Android OS.
Google got a jump on the competition by being down the street from Apple and having its then-CEO, Eric Schmidt, on Apple's board.
In the meantime, Microsoft got into the game and even Palm took a swipe at it. The fact that RIM took so long to get on board with any real sincerity makes me wonder how it will go from here.
For some reason, all this coverage of BlackBerry 10 ignores the previous attempts at getting into this market.
Previous BlackBerry flops
We too quickly forget the 2008 introduction of the BlackBerry Storm 9530. This was followed by the equally unsuccessful Storm 2, and then the moderately successful Torch.
Reading all of the recent blather, you'd think the BlackBerry 10 was the first one. Perhaps it really is the company's first serious entry.
The best example of a lack of sincerity is its PlayBook. Making a tablet that didn’t support email at launch (and for some time after) just shows that the company really doesn't care.
The psychology of product design
RIM's initial optimism has been crushed and I doubt its new smartphones can fend off the corporate culture resentment that will sneak in, just as it did with the PlayBook. It will scuttle the phones and the company with it. You see this happen all the time with tech products. It's what is killing Windows Phone. If there is any one thing that is wrong with Windows Phone, it's that it is insincere. I know it sounds weird, but it's true.
Insincerity, in the case of Microsoft, stems from the knowledge that Microsoft invented the smartphone, not Apple. Now Microsoft has to eat humble pie and create a product that is like the Apple iPhone. There is no love in the actual design, just aloofness and annoyance. This deep-seated message of disdain is transferred to the user. I'm not trying to be metaphysical here; I'm just acknowledging that it's obvious when a product is born out of resentment.
And this is why Android is such a success. The code is full of life. It's aggressive and there is a sense that Google has pulled one over on Apple. This can only be described as joyous. And the users respond by buying Android like crazy.
So thinking along these lines, does anyone believe the BlackBerry 10 is going to save the company?