A few years ago, RIM was the top dog in the Smartphone arena. Since then, competitors like Android and iOS have emerged and surpassed Blackberry.
Smartphones havenít been a niche market for some time now, so the cost to enter the market is very high now. In fact, Android and iOS have become so entrenched through their platforms and ecosystems that itís hard to imagine anyone muscling in on their racket.
So, with the imminent release of Blackberry 10 next week I canít help but wonder whether this will be the last big Smartphone OS launch. Going forward, Android and iOS will probably only get stronger. After BB10, the only new entrants weíre going to see are niche players like Tizen, Ubuntu, Firefox OS or possibly something really cheap; not really aimed at the North American market. Though Android already has cheap covered. Actually, in the future we probably wonít have any new OS' but rather weíll see companies fork Android and do their own thing with it like Amazon.
But enough of Android, back onto RIM and BlackBerry 10.
Sometimes people ask me what chance Blackberry has. RIM has been doing a great job of controlling leaked information about the upcoming BB10 software and hardware. Itís really helped in creating a viral like buzz, so kudos to that.
While the hardware and software look like solid a Smartphone OS, itís now about being more than just that. Itís about "ecosystems". Everyone makes solid hardware now. Last year I reviewed around 50 phones and you know what? None of them sucked. Itís just such a competitive market that as long as you spend around $400 before contract (which usually works out to a $0 phone on contract) youíre going to get something good. Heck, even Huawei which was known for making cheap entry level phones has some real gems in their lineup.
Part of the reason for this is because everyone has access to similar hardware components. Yeah Apple and Samsung have their own custom processors but generally speaking, theyíre not going to be years ahead of the competition. So in that sense I expect RIMís BB10 hardware to be in the same ballpark as what you get from the competition.
Moving onto software I also expect it to be pretty good. I hate to oversimplify it, but RIM knows that the software must be a homerun because the competition is also pretty good. They took their time with BB10 so I would be a little surprised if it wasn't.
Now back to the ecosystem; is RIM doing enough to seduce developers to their platform? On iOS and Android you can spend days downloading and trying really good apps. This probably wonít be the case on BB10 though Iíd be happy for them to prove me wrong. They are estimated to currently have 70,000 apps lined up, so it sounds promising, but if Windows Phone has taught me anything, quantity never equals quality. And what about media consumption? Is BBM Music still a thing? Was it ever popular amongst BB users? Movies, TV shows, how will it interact and sync across devices, and share things? Will RIM neglect this market for the sake of consumer simplicity and corporate privacy they constantly pride themselves on? Is their pride justified? I don't know.
The ecosystem isn't something to be over-looked, in fact if we look at Amazon and how they distorted Android to their own vision of their ecosystem, one can argue that the ecosystem is more powerful than the platform itself. After all the Kindle Fire is amongst the most popular Android tablets.
The real big question mark is whether consumers will be interested in BB10. I often like to compare the computer industry and the mobile industry - at least the personal computing one. In the personal computing industry we have basically have 3 players; Windows, Mac with Linux as a small player. Remember, Iím talking personal - you donít need to point out to me how awesome Linux servers are.
Anyways, I see something similar happening in the Smartphone space. Weíll have Android, iOS and probably a small third player. Will it be BB10?
When I talk to my phone nerd friends, one topic that sometimes comes up is; Windows Phone or BB10? Like I said before itís assumed that there will be 3 players; two strong ones and a third choice. So it will probably be Blackberry vs Windows Phone battling it out for the coveted bronze medal.
On one hand, Windows Phone is made by Microsoft which has "zillions" of dollars and theyíll probably keep pushing Windows Phone until it succeeds. They did the same thing with XBox. It took Microsoft quite a while before they were making money on XBox. On the other hand, Windows Phone and Windows Mobile have never really connected with consumers. When people buy a computer, they usually buy a Windows machine. When they buy a phone they donít. (Come to think of it, if MS had Google as a rival on the desktop, would customers really want MS anyways?.. Another discussion later I suppose)
As for Blackberry they donít have "zillions" of dollars lying around, but at the same time many people used a Blackberry at some point or have a definite familiarity with the brand and it's association with smartphones. In fact, if youíre reading this Iím almost certain you once owned a Pearl, Bold or a Curve. Unlike Windows, Blackberry has connected with consumers in the past and so this may make it easier for them to reconnect again.
Now when I think about a new OS launching and potentially failing, the first thing that comes to mind is Palmís WebOS (may it rest in piece). When it first launched I thought it was so far ahead of everything else on the market. The hardware was solid - well not literally, the phone was actually pretty chintzy but it was still a nice piece. The software was ahead of everything else on the market. So why did WebOS fail?
First off WebOS launched on Sprint. Nothing against Sprint but putting it just on Sprint really limits its reach. Many carriers have announced that they will be launching BB10 so right away theyíre off to a better start.
Another reason why WebOS died is that the hardware got stale. The Pre was out for too long and by the time they refreshed it, it was too late. They actually refreshed it a third time but by then it was way past its expiration date. Rumors have it that RIM will be bringing out around 8 different skuís so, hopefully things wonít grow stale.
Interestingly, the media has been talking about RIM being carved up and sold off. This actually happened to Palm. They got bought by HP which then let things get really out of date, hardware-wise. If this does happen to RIM, for the love of God, stay on top of things and keep releasing hardware.
Nothing is certain except that itís going to be an uphill battle for RIM. The crackberry in me wants them to succeed, regain some lost ground and get some momentum. It's been a long time since anyone got excited about a BlackBerry release. I want nothing more than for RIM to start producing new innovations again.
I hope RIM can create the a thriving ecosystem that people so very much desire. And I hope if nothing else works, they don't sell to HP... they ruined a good thing with WebOS.