Blackberry World 2012: The Fall of RIM
Orlando, FL can offer a number of choices for a family vacation like the alligator farm with a great lake fancied by birds, or the Disney World and many other attractions. It is also the home of the annual Blackberry World RIM is using to gather hundreds of developers, partners and clients to unveil their plans.
The first tablet by RIM became the most single important thing for the company in 2011 and as they conveyed in innumerable ads. They were trying to tell us that Blackberry is back with a killer tablet. Last year they even gave every visitor of the Playbook event a sample tablet – mine is still collecting dust in a table drawer because it is completely unusable. The price for Playbook has been steadily lowered from the initial $499 to the current $199 but plenty of them are still unsold. The failure of Playbook cost RIM $465 million in 2011 alone. A loss this big is not deadly for a company the size of RIM but also is not as painless as they tried to convince us. Unfortunately, the Playbook experience has taught RIM nothing and they are about to fall into the same trap once again only this time it might hurt badly.
Blackberry World 2012 Main Announcements: Prototypes Unleashed
Every manufacturer going through some hard times is switching from announcing real products to demonstrating prototypes, something that may or may not ever be released. Anyway, they show us something don’t have now and in 2012 RIM adopts this practice at Blackberry World. Last year they showed us something they actually had even though it was a very crude product, rather a beta than a release version. Today they demonstrate a product they are yet to develop.
Thorsten Heins, CEO of RIM, said how much he is loving something in Blackberry about 40 times as if he were a walking McDonalds ad. The pomp of the presentation was the same as old CEOs used but they ditched 3D effects and added some disturbing ambient music. Frankly I was waiting for ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ to come out of the speakers in the end and it would be appropriate to the pomp when he was citing statistics. According to Mr. Heins 22% of smartphone users in general and 34% of Blackberry users download apps every day. Amazing, I wonder who are those people who need a fresh app every single day. Also, I am not sure what does that tell us about iPhone users? They don’t download as many apps but there are a whole lot more of them. Clearly they cherry picked the right statistics to make Blackberry look good but no one cared about such anythings anyway. People waited for something else but figures.
More amusing statistics from RIM: 63% of people use social media on their phones (don’t ask me what that is I have no idea but I am sure they included news and weather apps into this figure). Naturally, Blackberry users are a lot more progressive – 97% use ‘social media’.
All those statistics left me with an unpleasant aftertaste as if RIM’s CEO was trying to sell me something I did not want. You don’t need any figures in presentations anyway – just look at Apple. If you don’t have anything real to boast of then just don’t. Otherwise some ghastly journalist is going to write some nasty things about you.
Blackberry has great expectations for their upcoming OS Blackberry 10 (based on QNX like Playbook OS). The release date has not been changed – late 2012. They gave out the first BB10 device prototypes: it looks a lot like Playbook, the screen is 4.2” 1280×768, 16GB of storage on board, no memory card slot and 1GB of RAM. Thorsten Heins said that its main feature is real multitasking and it allows you to switch between active apps by swiping between them.
Deja vu is the right word for what I was feeling. Maemo and then MeeGo presentations showed us the very same thing over a year ago. Even the words they used promising a new paradigm of user experience and a never before seen UI. And unlike the Blackberry solution MeeGo actually exists even though it is not popular. I could not see any new ideas in the gesture controls or in the integration of the Playbook solutions. It looks slightly different but the concept in general is the same. BB10 Blackberry sees as the last best hope is only an alpha version right now.
Another thing that caught my attention was the BB10 touch keyboard. Blackberry’s best experience and expertise lie in hard key pads and their early attempt to enter the touchscreen market with Storm failed miserably. There was no iPhone killer because Blackberry ditched their main market advantage – physical key pads. Blackberry is now concerned with improving touch key pads and the way we type. The key feature of their keyboard is the word prompt popping up that can be sent to the entry form by flicking, the key pad remembers your choices and improves prediction.
It looks nice and it might even be useful in practice but it is not a replacement for a physical key pad, not by a long shot. Besides, it is not a copy proof feature so should it become popular it will be immediately copied by other manufacturers and RIM will not be able to do anything about it. But it’s not even a big deal – it might be a nice little feature but not something that will sell.
There were also speeches about how important multimedia is for RIM. They presented a photo feature that allows you to select the best shot out of a series of images. The interface looks nice and it reminded me of the burst shot in Sony Ericsson K790/K800 that allowed the user to pick one out of 9 pictures made in one second and discard all the others. Time goes on but the old features are merely given an comb-over.
There was not much more said. Mr. Heins also mentioned that RIM is going to develop car navigation and onboard computer systems. He stressed the fact that 30% of such systems are based on QNX. It is an interesting fact but it does not automatically mean that RIM has got any advantages and as this market develops very fast I am sure that Android is going to have a say in this matter. He also said something about security of information and encryption but we should disregard this as the usual afterword of any Blackberry presentation.
Here is a video on BB10 features:
What We Wanted to Hear at Blackberry World 2012
Unfortunately, except for the fact that RIM’s CEO apparently loves McDonalds and new Blackberry technologies there is nothing really to report. We saw an alpha OS on a prototype that even if released will look completely different. There are reviews of this device available on the web but to review it is like meditating on how good a device is going to be looking at a heap of its hardware parts. It tells us nothing about the release version, although Rim might get as desperate as to release that unfinished mini-tablet.
The company should have answered our questions about its future instead:
- What RIM is going to do about their users switching to iPhone and Android?
- What are RIM’s perspectives on new markets and how can they comment leaving the Russian and a number of other markets?
- What is the company’s OS development strategy in regard to iOS and Android?
- What RIM is going to do with the falling sales and what new services are they going to offer?
- What they are going to do about the brand value in regard to all the critique over the last two years?
I heard no answers to these questions. RIM reminds me of a sinking ship on board of which people instead of trying to save it are discussing what they should have for breakfast tomorrow. After all, dying hungry is no way to go.
This Blackberry event showed me one important thing – the company does not have the resources to save itself from the now inevitable death. In December 2011 I wrote that RIM had 6-8 months to come up with a comeback strategy. But as I see, they chose a pompous funeral over continuing the struggle. Well, if a terminal patient won’t take his medicine there is only way it can end. Blackberry is now a walking dead and the last Blackberry World was its obituary.
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