Sometime around late 2003 or so, I remember my not-so-tech savvy but very striving-to-be-hip coworker getting the 7200 series BlackBerry. It seemed superfluous at the time. He claimed it was to increase his work efficiency but the extra connectivity seemed more of an actual distraction and about the wow-factor than anything else.
The only people with a BlackBerry then were the self-important, or CEOs (if you could split the difference in defining them). Things progressed and within a few short years I traded my Palm PDA + Nokia phone for something more robust and integrated, eventually landing on the the BlackBerry Curve (8300 series) that became my business workhorse for several years. I was neither a CEO or a self-important person…
It wasn’t so much brands like BlackBerry, Palm and Sidekick (HipHop) in the mid 2000s were changing things as much as they quite simply defined the new, connected lifestyle. It was no longer clunky T-9 messaging and foul rendering WAP decks and hacked J2ME workarounds, it was QUERTY keyboards, the Opera Mini browser and productivity integrations.
Fast-forward to now and most of us cannot image what such a disconnected life was like. The cache of BlackBerry and its ilk, however, waned considerably over the years to the dismal state their recognition is now.
Palm unceremoniously folded in 2010 into Hewlett-Packard, which bungled the acquisition and stripped the brand of so much of it’s identity and evaporated it’s WebOS reboot so all that’s left is a middle-aged tech nerd’s recollection of the glory of the Pilots. Meanwhile, around 2007, Danger was bought by Microsoft who maintained for a brief period the OS before shuttering development support in 2010 so that all that’s left is a shell of the original T-Mobile brand usage of Sidekick packaged over flimsy version of the Samsung Galaxy series Android phones.
BlackBerry just informally announced it was seeking a suitor this week which many see as the white flag being run up for the once venerable brand. As my former co-worker knew too, carrying a BlackBerry made you business important. BlackBerry always struggled with the general consumer / casual market but was able to long dominate Enterprise because of it’s unique data security and easy integration for queezy IT departments along with that businessmen’s important-man chache.
Over the last few years however, RIM ceeded it’s enterprise level dominance to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement led by iOS drones and Android fanbois who demanded their IT departments support their new, hip and much more powerful devices. RIM’s former strength in the business world had become it’s fatal flaw weakness. Try as it might, first with devices like the Storm and now with the BB10, it has been unable to re-find the sweet spot and it’s drastically cut into the bottom line.
With M&A dominated by biggest bang for the media coverage type takeovers lately one has to wonder who would be willing to take on RIM with their diminished BlackBerry brand affinity and heavy infrastructure costs.
The RIM data management and delivery system that is the cornerstone of the BlackBerry selling proposition is largely proprietary which means it’s not a graceful integration for anyone looking to acquire solely for the security layer it adds, which may, or may not, still pose a value to end-users to begin with.
Meanwhile, RIM’s BlackBerry brand is no longer seen as a desirable handset for the elitists that typically drive adoption. It isn’t that the OS is necessarily poorly designed, that it lacks in competative functionality, or that the UI isn’t friendly enough as much as the ever elusive hip factor just isn’t there when compared to what Apple and Google have brought to the table.
As the smart phone market continues to stagnate because real advancements are coming slower and manufacturers are increasingly relying on “bells and whistles” for differentiation there is going to be a time of entrenchment by the big players. With so little of the market devoted to RIM gaining mindshare of consumers and marketshare overall should prove a very difficult hurdle to overcome. Furthermore, RIM is not alone in it’s battle, as a reinvigorated Microsoft seeks to compete with it for the comeback kid market – a market Microsoft is surprisingly winning.
This means the partners for BlackBerry may be scarce, at least in the traditional sense. They aren’t a competitive threat enough to be bought out of fear, nor do they bring enough compatible value for smaller players to consolidate with, nor do they bring a unique element which provides a distinguishable differentiation factor.
Leaving some interesting interpretations on non-traditional mergers and some creative pricing mechanisms for determining the real value of RIM.
Whomever takes it on needs to be versed in executing a re-branding and turning around the consumer opinion of the product to drive real usage. Not many, if any, in the technology field are adept with such an effort. Formerly established brands routinely struggle with this as was seen in Yahoo!, AOL and the many former giants that already folded while even some of the bigger names like Microsoft seem to constantly be swimming upstream. Making a full-pivot like what Apple accomplished as part of their current renaissance is not unheard of but it is extremely unlikely given the confluence of RIM’s own corporate heritage, the industry’s track record and generally the principle of statistical probability.
In the coming weeks there will be a lot written about the possibilities and potential but the chances of anything big and boisterous happening in the short term are probably slim. This isn’t likely going to be a whirlwind affair that results in a glorious marriage. Nothing with RIM has ever been that simple even ensuring your emails were delivered…