Tag Archives: rim

Blackberry is as good as ever, but no better

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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.

RIM backing away from hardware

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For sale?

RIM is talking about getting out of the hardware business and making a living licensing its soon-to-be-released Blackberry 10 operating system. They talked about getting into the OS licensing business at the Mobilecon show in October, although they seemed pretty intent on staying in the hardware business too at that point.

They’ll have a hard time transitioning to a licensing model. RIM’s selling proposition is beginning-to-end enterprise/institutional IT network support. Consumers don’t buy Blackberries, and that’s where the major manufacturers are focused.

I could see RIM doing a deal with a manufacturer to buy out its hardware business and support the Blackberry OS as a niche. But they’d be playing the end game. It’s not a growth strategy. If anything, manufacturers are looking at more open source OSes. Samsung adopting Tizen is an example.

The automobile sector is one potential growth area for RIM, and they’re looking at it. It’s essentially a machine-to-machine play, and if that’s really where they’re headed, they have a better shot at making a go at licensing. A closed system can be an advantage in that space, where telecommunications capability is just one more feature engineered into an overall product design.

Smart phones are a different story. There’s an increasing amount of effort focused on the BYOD (bring your own device) market from manufacturers, carriers and, most importantly, application and service developers. As long as there are IT departments that buy mobile services and hardware, and dictate corporate policy – government agencies, for example – RIM will sell devices and back end support. But their market share will continue to decline. They just don’t have a compelling growth story to tell to handset manufacturers.

RIM ends the game with Zip

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Remember the Iomega Zip drive? Back when laptops had 80 meg hard drives and a gig was just a dream, the 100 MB Zip super floppy was hot. But Iomega couldn’t push it beyond 750 MB.

ZipdriveI retired mine in 1997, and Iomega gradually moved it to the back of their catalog. Slowly. Even in the 2005 time frame, they still had Zip customers. Government agencies, mostly. Isolated from competitive pressures and soaked in a culture that often enshrines blame and ignores achievement, public sector IT life cycles are glacial.

That’s why I think RIM will survive a lot longer than industry analysts are predicting. Blackberry is the safe bet for government buyers, who see it as secure, safe for work and – most importantly – controllable.

RIM CIO Robin Bienfait leaned heavily on RIM’s reputation for security and centralized control during her keynote speech at last month’s MobileCon show in San Diego, calling it “our core DNA”. She believes that the Blackberry 10 platform will survive in a mobile ecosystem dominated by Android and iOS, where even Microsoft’s viability looks like a long odds bet.

RIM mobilecon2012RIM is expanding the Blackberry 10 platform to support Android and iOS, to give IT managers a familiar tool with a blame-proof brand that controls access for employees who bring their own devices to work and expect to be able to use them.

That puts RIM on a steep downsizing path. Its legacy hardware customers will hang on for years, probably longer even than Zip loyalists (though not as long as the IBM 370, which lives on to this day in public sector data centers). But the active roadmap leads to a technology-only company that provides interfaces between consumer-grade devices and risk averse IT departments.

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Live from CTIA 1 April 2009: real time tweets

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CTIA head Steve Largent talking at keynote sez wireless a bright spot in dismal economy.

Tmobile-USA CEO Robert Dotson also upbeat, so far speech is bland banalities, invoking Obama, Charles Lindbergh.

Dotson showing video talking up open source, sez on indy devs to drive innovation.

Dotson links stimulus bill, wireless broadband, rural connectivity & tmobile, guess who’s lining up for government cash?

CTIA survey sez people don’t want more taxes or regulation or to pay higher mobile phone bills. No s*** Sherlock.

Ivan Seidenberg CEO Verizon up now, sez 6 hours TV & online use per day, only half hour wireless use means growth opportunity.

Seidenberg wants d-block spectrum assigned directly to locals, improve broadband for first responders he sez.

Mike Lazaridis co-CEO RIM on stage, talking about magnificent – magnificent! – convergence & opportunity.

Lazaridis selling Blackberries, not doing industry leader speech like Dotson & Seidenberg.

2 out of 3 good batting average for trade show keynotes, kudos to Verizon, Tmobile & CTIA.

Lazaridis just wasting my time, l8r dood.

Met with folks from Oulu Innovation, have turned a Finnish community into a test bed for wireless apps, services & hardware.

Oulu attracting R&D operations, offers a living laboratory for proving new hardware & software for all handset makers, not just Nokia.

Met with Newbay too, 6 year old company, 250 employees, sez it’s profitable. 100% of revenue comes from mobile carriers.

Newbay creates content cloud – “lifetime cloud services” – for mobile carriers, users can store photos, sms, address books for example.

Heading back out to CTIA show floor, looking for big news. Not a packed show – can call it comfortably well attended though.

Mood at CTIA not upbeat, not down either, more like “if this is as bad as it gets I can deal with it”.

Hot party tonight is Fierce Wireless‘ at Caesars, follows free drinks at on-floor happy hour, CTIA crowd feeling good.

Omega Mobile designs mobile apps, doing well, upgraded offices in Emeryville, @scgeeks: looking for iPhone devs.

Driinn is neat, low tech gadget by Kikkerland, turns charger into a wall mounted mobile phone cradle.


Cup holder technology for a mobile age