What can you say. RIM was expected to post a loss. Nobody saw this one coming. Over $500 million lost, or $0.37/share, ten-times what most analysts thought we occur. Shipments (note this is not the same as sales) of Blackberries dropped to 7.8 million, down from 11.1 units the previous quarter. Playbook shipments cut in half. Blackberry 10 delayed until sometime in Q1 next year. Another 5,000 people out the door (which makes about 10,000 people in the most recent rounds). This is astounding.
So what is their fearless leader have to say? Naturally, he is “…not satisfied” with the results. He wants to improve them. A substantial part of the “plan”: continued beating on the drum of “licencing BB10”. How on earth is this a plan?
Is There Really A Plan?
I loved one quote about what they want from licencing BB10: “we are not trying to be one of many, we’re trying to be different.” Um, what? You are one of many. You aren’t different. BB10 isn’t any more technologically advanced than iOS or Android. All of them are variations on a theme: thread-scheduling microkernels with layered services. BB10 may look different, but under the covers, it is really more of the same. Unless they’ve developed some completely new and wonderful way to architect and design an operating system, and that new design matters or makes a difference, then BB10 is really the same as everything else. The details are different, but really, almost none of those details matter. They matter to technologists. They don’t matter to consumers because they don’t see anything different about it.
Worse, the “plan” is because he wants “… to show you we’re not standing still”. So the idea is that some kind of activity must mean they are making things better. Activity for the sake of activity isn’t a plan. Movement doesn’t necessarily mean you are moving forward. Running around in circles shouting is “not standing still”, but it isn’t terribly effective. What is still missing from all of this is a plan. If there is a plan, it appears to be “do more of the same, only harder”.
The Next Killer Mobile Device Will Be Completely and Totally Different
You will not disrupt Android or iOS with yet another mobile operating system on the same basic hardware configuration that everyone else uses. You can’t say “new UI paradigm! apps! content!” and expect people to abandon devices they now know and trust. Blackberry isn’t dying because their UI is inferior (even though it is). It is dying because it isn’t part of a vibrant and healthy ecosystem of apps and content. Even if it does have something (which it doesn’t), if you watch their commercials, they show nothing that can’t be done just as effectively with an iPhone or an Android. E-mail! Schedules! Social Media! Pictures! Guess what: every smartphone out there does that. All of them.
If you truly want to disrupt the current leaders in smartphones, you have to be completely and totally different. Yes, there will be some overlap in terms of functionality. I don’t know what The Next Big Thing will be, or even look like. All I can tell you is it won’t feel, look, act or behave like an iPhone or any Android. BB10 isn’t that device. It is a touch-based UI, it runs apps, and it does all the same things the other devices do. The look may be different, the substance is the same.
Then What Is The Attraction for BB10?
Given that BB10 isn’t actually all that different, and it doesn’t have a market, and it won’t have much of an app or content ecosystem at the start, why would anyone want to licence it? Nokia doesn’t want it. They are firmly in bed with a different dying smartphone brand, and likely can’t switch partners. Samsung and HTC won’t want it. They are already going great guns with Android. Motorola Mobility can’t take it, because they are part of Google now. Sony won’t care, because all they’ll see is “enterprise oriented”, and Sony isn’t an enterprise company. HP already crashed and burned with WebOS. Why would they buy yet another mobile OS with no market?
There is no benefit for a handset manufacturer to adopting BB10. It would be like trying to start a company that builds laptops and only offering Linux instead of Windows. Sure, it is technologically advanced, and it is better in ways that technologists care about. But it worse as far as consumers are concerned. Yes, there will be some interest from a tiny sliver of the market (technologists). But most mainstream users won’t want it. Don’t believe me: look at the first netbooks. They were nothing until they started to ship with Windows. They sold almost no Linux-based models, and if the Best Buy numbers are to be believed, most of the few Linux machines that went out were returned within days.
A handset maker adopting BB10 would be in the same boat. It would be a weird oddball of an operating system with few apps and minimal content. Ooo, it runs BBM. Guess what: no one cares anymore. Sure, making an Android handset puts you in the crowd that is already out there, but it is a crowd that is proven, it exists, and it has a customer base. BB10 will hit the market with no established base, and uncertain prospects. Trying to build a handset business around BB10 would be an extremely risky proposition.
Sure, go ahead and see. Maybe RIM will have takers for BB10. But I think it is a futile effort. The market has spoken, and the market wants one of two platforms: iOS or Android. They don’t want Symbian. They don’t want Bada. They don’t want Windows Phone. They don’t want Blackberry.
A Way Forward?
It is time to face the music: Blackberry in its current form is effectively dead. It’s done. The war is over. RIM lost. Time to decide what RIM really wants to be. If they want to stay in handsets, then its time to take the deep talent they have in securing mobile systems, and applying that skill to Android. Make the most secure Android smartphone out there. Either licence that technology or contribute it back to the source base, and now RIM has a reason to be in handsets. If they do go that route, then for god’s sake hire skilled industrial designers. Make a device that is not only solid from a software perspective, but is gorgeous to behold. Don’t make an iPhone clone (because Apple will sue you). Come up with something. Yes, it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
RIM’s biggest and best business is their infrastructure, and their enterprise integration skills. Time to either focus on that part of the business, and start to provide technology to others like iOS and Android to take advantage of it, or sell it to someone who can make it work. HP and IBM would both be potential candidates for this business. RIM has some skill as a network operator, and that is part and parcel of their enterprise integration skills. It is time to focus on the part of the business that is working, and that the other major players (Apple and Google) are not doing as well in right now. An opportunity exists, but it won’t last forever. Apple is improving in their own infrastructure skills. Google has them, but they haven’t applied them to Android all that effectively. Yet.
Licencing BB10 is not a plan. Trying to “be different” when you’re not, and showing you’re “not standing still” isn’t a plan. RIM still has a successful infrastructure and enterprise integration business. They have deep skills in mobile security. It is time to take those, and make the most of them. Handsets in their current form are done. Either invent something completely new (BB10 isn’t completely new), and maybe there’s a chance. But building yet another multitasking smartphone won’t matter. Focus on what works. Stop putting money, time and effort into those things that aren’t working anymore.