Blackberry is as good as ever, but no better

30 January 2013 by Steve Blum
, , , , ,

None of this Tomfoolery for Blackberry!

What RIM, excuse me, Blackberry showed this morning was solid technology that’s ahead in some regards and more or less keeping up with the pack in others. The new Blackberry 10 operating system is consistent with what they demonstrated and described last October at MobileCon.

They have a full touchscreen phone and they’re keeping a keyboard model in play. That’s probably a good idea given that their best short term hope is to re-energize their legacy institutional customers. Not the kind of buyers who stray far from their comfort zones. The improvements they’ve made to keyboard and touchscreen interfaces will be a big help.

The new user interface doesn’t break any radically new ground. It follows a tile based design that’s reminiscent of Windows 8. It’s a nice enough approach. I like the look and feel of using the Windows 8 interface, and I’m sure Blackberry has done well in that regard too.

However, Windows 8 is faltering. A nice interface is not enough to entice the truly creative developers who prefer, by a large margin, to work on iOS and Android platforms. Blackberry might have solid in-house software and standard apps and content from the usual suspects, but that appeals to aging IT managers who want to limit the scope of their network management problems.

The apps they showed this morning are pretty ordinary. Nothing would particularly appeal to the average consumer, let alone the young people who set the pace for everybody else. “Me too” doesn’t get you very far and, boiled down, that’s Blackberry’s message this morning.

Blackberry also has a problem with distribution. It isn’t a force in the mainstream consumer-facing distribution channels. It gets some help from carriers and sells to insititutional buyers, but it is completely swamped by the marketing efforts of Apple, Samsung and the other big manufacturers.

Silicon Valley money is starting to focus on the consumer market as the point of entry to the corporate and government agency space. The other big announcement this morning came from a start-up called Tomfoolery. It’s a big deal to me anyway. I might be biased because I know Sol Lipman, one of the principals, but he has a solid record of 1. fast failures and 2. multimillion dollar successes. When you have both you have huge credibility in Silicon Valley.

Tomfoolery’s play is to focus directly on building enterprise grade mobile apps that are targeted aggressively at consumers. They’ll sell one by one to employees and then turn them loose on corporate IT departments. Disruptive, darn it.

I think Blackberry did what it needed to do this morning to keep the doors open for a few more months. But that’s all the time they’ve bought themselves. If they don’t start reporting significant sales growth immediately – February and, maybe, March – they’re cooked.