BlackBerry: are we witnessing the end of an era?

BlackBerry smartphones have become so common in the Caribbean, it almost seems odd when someone does not have one. Many of us don’t know what we would do without our BlackBerry, but could the device be on its way out?

In terms of mobile phone, BlackBerry devices are by far the most popular phone in the Caribbean. For years “the BlackBerry” was seen as a prestigious device that people aspired to own. With the falling prices of mobile phones and “the BlackBerry” becoming more mainstream – not just for executives – millions in the region and around the world are now part of this no longer elite group. However, industry pundits are concerned that Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturer of the BlackBerry, has not acknowledged fundamental shifts that have occurred in the mobile computing market, which they believe inherently signals the company’s imminent demise.

What are the alleged issues?

The concerns about BlackBerry/RIM are varied, and some have been in existence for a while. For example,

  • Limited apps. Similar to Apple, RIM strictly controls the applications (apps) that are available for its phones. The limited number of apps, their relatively high selling price, along with the cumbersome interface for app development, have all hindered RIMs competitiveness when compared with Android devices and even with the iPhone.
  • Web browsing. Although public perception of the BlackBerry has changed from being a strictly corporate device to a popular consumer phone, it is still, at heart, designed for enterprise. In that regard, the BlackBerry web browsing experience is not as developed when compared with other smartphones on the market.

It therefore seemed that BlackBerry has been playing  game of “catch-up” to to the more popular smartphones. However recently, grave concerns have been expressed about RIM’s intention to abandon the current Operating System (OS), version 6.0, when its new phones are released in a few weeks. The new OS, version 7.0, will run on the new BlackBerry Bold 9900 only. More importantly, previous phones, even the company’s most recent releases, such as the Torch or Bold 9700, will not be updated to this new OS and as such, they will not benefit from the extensive improvements RIM has reportedly made.

In this day and age, some experts are criticising RIM for not seeing the BlackBerry OS as a platform, similar to iOS or Android, but instead it focuses on producing discrete devices that have little relation to each other (Infoworld). As a result, there is limited (if no) compatibility between its various phones, or even between the BlackBerry phone OS and its tablet OS. This major failing is being seen as indicative of the company’s imminent demise.

More importantly, what does RIM’s approach to its OSs and device compatibility mean to current BlackBerry users? In a nutshell, especially since RIM plans to offer no legacy device support, even for its most recent releases, the company seems to be inherently marginalising its existing consumers. If users want to have access to the new developments on the BlackBerry platform, they must purchase the Bold 9900, but how long will the OS 7 be supported? What will happen when RIM releases a new product?

Is there still support for BlackBerry?

As indicated in previous paragraphs, BlackBerry smartphones are still very popular. Users love the keyboard, and the platform is known for being one of the strongest and most secure on the market. They are also considered durable and reliable, and are available with a wide range of functions and styles.

However, reviews for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet have been mixed. Within days of its release in April this year, users complained that the devices failed to restart, so there have been a number of software patches and updates since the launch. However, it seems that the PlayBook’s greatest strengths still are the features that are geared towards the corporate environment.

Should we be concerned?

For BlackBerry users in the Caribbean , the short answer is yes – we must watch this space. In the US, BlackBerry smartphones have already lost market share to the iPhone and Android-based phones. Even businesses that had been faithful BlackBerry customers are moving to other platforms, especially as security and affordability have improved. Most tellingly, and again in the US, in the first quarter of 2011, sale of Android-based smartphones overtook the BlackBerry for the first time since their launch (Mashable). However, in the Caribbean, the BlackBerry might be better positioned to hold on to its supremacy in the market:

  • The iPhone is still not as widely available within the region, and both the device and its calling plans are not as competitively priced as for the BlackBerry.
  • Android-based phones are gaining market in the region, but due to the widespread use of BlackBerry phones, the affordable calling plans, and free availability of BlackBerry Messaging between its users, Android phones are unlikely to overtake the BlackBerry into the near future.

 

Notwithstanding, with the position that RIM is reportedly planning to take with its upcoming smartphone offering, the company is essentially alienating its existing customer base, especially the non-business customer, and possibly eroding the brand loyalty it has enjoyed. Having said this, nothing is written in stone. If RIM is aware of the reactions its announcements have caused, in addition to the cold hard facts that it is indeed losing market share globally, it might be re-thinking its strategies going forward. However, it seems that this is a “make or break” situation for RIM and BlackBerry. Stay tuned…

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1 Comment

  • I think, like Microsoft & IBM products, Blackberry has a stronghold on the business clientele. These are not early adopters. But when they do finally adopt, they remain loyal for a long time.

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