For some time I’ve been saying that BlackBerry was on course for disaster.
Dwindling sales, a shrinking market share and an aura of old-fashionedness have all conspired against the once-popular smartphone manufacturer.
The latest news — looming buyouts, layoffs and cuts to its product line — all seem to indicate that BlackBerry has failed in its attempt to innovate itself out of an untimely demise.
It didn’t have to be this way.
BlackBerry has a lot of intrinsic value — a still significant market-share, unique encryption technologies and a proprietary operating system — but the company violated a cardinal rule of the technology industry a few years ago. It stopped trying new things.
During that time, BlackBerry did release new products, but they appeared to be bland, incremental improvements with little to distinguish them from previous models. Software development fell off as Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS platforms exploded in popularity and lured away programmers.
By the time the company realized its mistake, the public’s perception of the brand had already taken a turn for the worst.
Blackberry recently released a pair of new models — the Z10 and Q10 — and a new version of the BlackBerry operating system.
The Z10 is a relatively slick device that’s similar to current generation Android devices, while the Q10 is similar to previous BlackBerry devices, featuring a full QWERTY keyboard and a smaller screen.
The company had high hopes for the Z10 and was depending on good sales to help bolster both its public image and its flagging financial reserves. Sadly, sales were tepid, and as a result, BlackBerry has announced that it’s cutting 4,500 jobs worldwide.
This even though there are still a large (though dwindling) number of BlackBerry users and that some businesses mandate their use due to the security offered by their e-mail service.
So, what should the company have done?
One option, and I believe it to be a viable one, would have been to abandon the BlackBerry operating system in favor of a customized version of Android.
This would have allowed it to reduce its operating costs — operating system development is relatively expensive — while expanding both the appeal and capability of its devices by making all of the apps and features available with the Android operating system available to its users.
It’s likely the company could have produced an emulator that would have allowed these Android-based devices to continue to run previously-written BlackBerry apps.
Whatever the case, BlackBerry isn’t dead yet — it’s just in big trouble.
While its demise is not quite a foregone conclusion, the company is up against two massive players that can basically afford to ignore them — Apple and Google — and a third in Microsoft that basically has unlimited money to burn in the mobile phone market.
The lesson that can be taken from all of this:
In the tech world, it’s not enough to be good, it’s not enough to be needed.
You need to be dynamic and progressive, and BlackBerry let itself fall behind.
Nick DeLorenzo is Civitas Media’s director of new media technology. His Tech Talk column appears every Thursday.