BlackBerry 10: Who it's really for

BlackBerry unveiled its first new mobile handsets in 18 months, but smartphone users may not be the real market it's after

I have this friend I'll call Mack, until recently the CEO of a midsized tech firm in the Northeast. Whenever we had dinner -- and he wasn't dominating the conversation -- he'd look at whomever was talking with a teleprompter glaze over his eyes. He wasn't really paying attention to what was being said because he was too busy fiddling with his BlackBerry under the table.

Mack was very proud of his BlackBerry. To him it was a symbol that he was an always-connected CEO in touch with the latest in technology. Up until the very end of his career, he insisted the BlackBerry could do things (like push email) other smartphones couldn't. There was no convincing him otherwise.

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Like a lot of aging technocrats, he had fallen out of touch. But while Mack fiddled, the world changed. That, in a nutshell, is the story of BlackBerry's parent company, Research in Motion. As the iPhone soared and Android scrambled to catch up and even Windows Mobile reinvented itself, RIM was still sitting with glazed eyes and its hands under the table -- not enough research, almost no discernable motion.

Yes, BlackBerry's enterprise security features were second to none; today's smartphones are still playing catch-up on that score. That's why for years BlackBerrys were the government-issued smartphone of choice and why four years ago one of the big questions surrounding the newly elected President Barack Obama was whether the Secret Service would let him keep his BlackBerry. (They did.)

Now when I talk to government wonks about mobile technology, they sigh and mention how they're spending most of their time shifting their CrackBerry-addicted employees to iDevices. Obama still uses a BlackBerry, we are told, but now he's also sporting an iPad.

As I write this post, the company -- now simply called BlackBerry -- is unveiling the BlackBerry 10, its first new smartphone in 18 months. That's an entire epoch in the land of mobile devices. Since the BlackBerry Bold 9900 series debuted in August 2011, Apple has released the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, along with two upgrades to iOS. Google has released three new versions of Android, with lord knows how many phones based on those. Even Microsoft, which also totally reinvented its mobile OS, managed to release three versions of Windows Phone in that space.

Talk about digging yourself a hole.

This is pretty much the ballgame for BlackBerry. Either the BlackBerry 10 digs its claws into the smartphone market and brings BlackBerry's market share back into double digits, or it's time to clear out the desks, unplug the coffee machine, and put an "Everything Must Go!" poster on the door.

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