And now, BlackBerry - Mais ou` sont les neiges d'antan?

  • 24-Sep-2013

Where are the snows of yesteryear?” -- a refrain from a 15th century French ballad -- rings true in the mobile phone industry today. Palm, Nokia, Motorola, BlackBerry. All of them industry leaders not too long ago, but now fighting for survival. The mobile industry is sure turning out to be a textbook example of “creative destruction.”

Just the other day, I discussed Nokia’s lost mojo and potential implications for enterprise customers. Now, let’s talk about BlackBerry, another contender for a bronze medal in the mobile operating system race. Just a few years ago, corporate types coveted a BlackBerry and “sent from my BlackBerry” message foooters signaled power and prestige. Now, BlackBerry is on life support and its former name Research in Motion (RIM) is ripe for RIP puns. How did this come to pass?

In a nutshell: Like Nokia, BlackBerry too was slow to detect the importance of smart phones with touch interfaces and the power of apps. Consequently it ceded much ground to Android and iOS.

In the pre-smart phone era, email-on-the-go was the cornerstone and killer app of Enterprise Mobility 1.0 strategies. BlackBerry, with its excellent email, calendar, and of course, instant messenger applications was the leading (and often the only) choice for enterprises.

But innovation and advances in mobile devices (read iOS and Android) changed all that. Though initially intended for consumers, enterprises too embraced them fairly quickly (by switching to these devices as corporate policy or via BYOD).

Now, current Enterprise Mobility strategies are not just about a few apps here and there but delivering holistic B2C and B2E mobile experiences. The expectation now is that mobile experiences have to be useful as well as satisfying (or engaging or fun). BlackBerry focused on just the utility part of it and lost much appeal to consumers. This together with missteps and other gaps it failed to plug, means BlackBerry finds itself as a bit player.

Recent moves like failed attempts to find a buyer for itself or massive layoffs that cut too close to the bone or now, going private are only the denouement in a plot of inexorable decline that has been set in motion much before.

What’s the takeaway for you as a champion of enterprise mobility?

We can only guess what the new private owners intend to do – most likely, divest parts of the business, retain some parts, try to monetize the patents, and eventually sell off to another mobile ecosystem player. Lots of moving parts here.

If your organization currently remains a BlackBerry shop, your course of action will be dependent on the extent of the mobile experiences you’re currently delivering to your consumers and employees. If it is only mail and messaging – wait for some of the air to be cleared – it’s not that the company will be shuttering down immediately.

But we can reasonably expect that R&D investments in product/platform/ecosystem will shrivel even further.  So, if you are delivering richer mobile experiences and apps beyond messaging, then start putting together your migration plans. Our Enterprise Mobile Technology research that includes evaluation of 21 major vendors should prove helpful here. 

Last but not least, security (real or perceived) was one of the selling points of BlackBerry. BlackBerry may go away but the need for security won’t. And frankly, security and compliance for regulated industries are not exactly the strong points of enterprise mobile technology. Vet very carefully when you’re looking for solutions to develop experiences for iOS/Android/Others.

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