- Tom Silva
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Is This Farewell to the BlackBerry?
“They’re going to pry it out of my hands…”
That was President-Elect Obama protesting the idea of giving up his beloved BlackBerry. At one point, Obama suggested that retaining his BlackBerry was one way to stay connected to the real world. “I’ve got to look for every opportunity to do that – ways that aren’t scripted, ways that aren’t controlled, ways where, you know, people aren’t just complimenting you or standing up when you enter into a room, ways of staying grounded,” he said.
Ultimately, the battle was won by the Secret Service and Obama’s legal team for fear that the device would be hacked and that a damaging national security breach could occur.
Now — five years after its manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM), was hailed as one of the world’s leading technology companies, the Blackberry’s market share in the United States has fallen from 44 per cent in 2009 to a mere 10 per cent last year.
According to author James Surowiecki, “These days, it seems more like the SlackBerry. The BlackBerry’s reputed addictiveness now looks like a myth; a recent study found that only a third of users planned to stick with it the next time they upgraded. R.I.M.’s stock price is down 75 per cent in the past year, and two weeks ago the company was forced to bring in a new CEO. The easy explanation for what happened to R.I.M. is that, like so many other companies, it got run over by Apple. But the real problem is that the technology world changed, and R.I.M. didn’t. The BlackBerry was designed for businesses. Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments. The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security. It was a closed system, running on its own network. The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users. So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too”
Adoption of the BlackBerry can be compared to the latest technologies of the last century or so. For example, the telegraph was initially used primarily by railroads, financial institutions, and big companies. Although the telephone became popular with consumers relatively quickly, it initially was a business tool. Typewriters also were found primarily in offices. The Internet had its origins as a means of communications by the military-industrial complex, and found an audience among academics and scientists. The personal computer gained market dominance once IBM introduced models targeted squarely at businesses.
According to Surowiecki, “Even as the BlackBerry was at the height of its popularity, we were entering the age of what’s inelegantly called the consumerization of I.T., or simply Bring Your Own Device. In this new era, technological diffusion started to flow the other way — from consumers to businesses. Social media went from being an annoying fad to an unavoidable part of the way many businesses work. Tablets, which many initially thought were just underpowered laptops, soon became common among salesmen, hospital staffs, and retailers. So, too, with the iPhone and Androids. They’ve always been targeted at consumers, and tend to come with stuff that I.T. departments hate, like all those extraneous apps. Yet, because employees love them, businesses have adapted (and the iPhone and Androids have upgraded security to make themselves more business-friendly). As a result, the iPhone and Androids now control more than half the corporate mobile market.”
The trend toward consumerization sounded a death knell for R.I.M., because the company had no idea about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn’t introduce a touch-screen phone until long after Apple; the device was a pale imitation of the iPhone. Once seen as a ground-breaking success, the R.I.M. started to be perceived as offering too many choices and confusing model names.
“The workplace is changing, too,” Surowiecki said. “The barrier between work and home has been eroded, and if people are going to have to be constantly connected they want at least to use their own phones. And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs. One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It’s a brave new world. It’s just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.”