Disruptive change within a marketplace often means winners and losers. When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 it set off a series of quakes that rocked the smart phone industry, and toppled the leaders.
RIM (BlackBerry). Nokia. Palm. Microsoft. All have fallen on hard times and make up a tiny, unprofitable percentage of an industry they once dominated. Here’s how BlackBerry can take a bite from Apple’s lead.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Palm is gone, having been swallowed by HP, which promptly developed a serious case on indigestion. What of Nokia and Microsoft?
Both companies are on the rebound and have launched new products which have been well received by tech pundits, but not so much by customers who flock to Android and iOS smart phones.
RIM is the last of the once proud and profitable smart phone companies to launch a competitor to Android and iPhone.
First, RIM is no longer RIM. From here on, for better or worse, RIM is BlackBerry. That’s a good move. It brings clarity.
Second, RIM, uh, excuse me, BlackBerry launched the BlackBerry 10, a year later than their original target, and probably a few years later than necessary to have a substantial impact on the marketplace.
BlackBerry is desperate.
The company’s share of the smartphone market fell from almost 9-percent in 2011 to less than 2-percent last year. Granted, the market is growing, but BlackBerry is not.
It’s Plain Old Math
How does BlackBerry get back in the game to compete with Apple’s iPhone and all the modern smartphones that customers have come to expect?
It’s simple. It’s not easy. But it’s simple. It’s so simple it’s almost math.
Think about what Apple did with the iPhone to topple the industry. The iPhone’s interface and form factor were revolutionary. Sure, touch screens had been around awhile, but nothing compared to the ease-of-use of even the original iPhone.
When Apple launched the App Store a year later, the iPhone was on a rocket course to growing numbers and incredible revenue and profitability. The only thing that has kept Apple from dominating the industry is the inability to manufacture more, and Google’s Android OS, now on the largest number of smartphones, and it itself mostly a clone of Apple’s iPhone iOS.
What does BlackBerry need to do?
The BlackBerry 10 must be a leap beyond where iOS and Android are today. A leap. A big leap. Why? That’s how it works. It’s math.
To entrench an industry leader, an upstart (or, in the case of BlackBerry, an also ran) must meet or match the leader’s feature and function set, and do so for considerably less money, simply to attract attention from the smartphone customer.
Or, the new product must be notably better, a dramatic improvement over the entrenched industry leader, yet priced in a similar range– again, simply to attract the attention from customers whose expectations have been raised significantly.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone, found on Nokia smartphones (as well as other manufacturers), has received generally good reviews. The interface is unique and not similar to iOS or Android OS. Nokia hardware in the more expensive models also gets high marks.
So, why isn’t Nokia selling tens of millions of Windows Phone models? Why is Windows Phone’s market share so low? As it will be with Black Berry 10, most of the Windows Phone reviews end the same way.
Too little, too late.
In other words, the differences between Windows Phone and the Android iOS train are incremental, not revolutionary, and it’s a revolution that is required to topple industry leaders.
ZDNet’s Ben Woods offered one of the first reviews, a BlackBerry Z10, but noted that the interface is somewhere between the tiles of Microsoft’s Windows Phone and the icons of iOS and Android OS.
I had been braced for another minor disappointment from RIM/BlackBerry and, while it has had to play catch up and introduce features now found as standard on other OSes, it has done so with a style and ease that Windows Phone should be scared of.
That’s a telling indictment. BlackBerry 10 is good, perhaps the company’s best ever, and it could be competitive, side-by-side, with the best from Microsoft, Android devices, or the iPhone.
Is it enough?
No. Everything about BlackBerry 10 says table stakes; offering a few differences that are incremental and evolutionary improvements, not revolutionary changes. There is nothing in the bullet point specifications, price, or early reviews that suggests the smartphone masses will line up to ditch their iPhones and Galaxy phones to buy a new BlackBerry.
In product marketing, differentiation is key. The iPhone was a different kind of smart phone in 2007 which disrupted an entire industry. How much different is the new BlackBerry line? It’s not. The new BlackBerry hasn’t raised the bar; it’s barely reached the new bar. The differences between BlackBerry and the rest of the smartphone crowd are nominal. That is not a formula for success. BlackBerry hasn’t been reinvented as much as it has matured to become more or less like every other smartphone on the market.
Maybe revolution is not what BlackBerry is after. It’s more than possible that all BlackBerry can hope for today is to compete to survive. Then, with market focus, become relevant again. That will take time. Remember, while the original iPhone models sold well, the big numbers didn’t come until the ecosystem grew up around Apple’s growing customer base.
Apple’s iPhone is difficult to compete against because the basic features are the same– cell phone with applications– and the ecosystem is the best in the industry. It’s looking more and more as though Nokia, Microsoft, and now BlackBerry are minor players on a very large stage.