I hate to kick someone when they're down, but since the wounds are self-inflicted, I'll get over it in this case. Yesterday at its BlackBerry World show, Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the BlackBerry is dead. For the last few years, I've marveled in a horrified way as the once-top smartphone creator dug itself deeper into a pit of denal about the changes in the mobile market. It's hard for a company to adjust to a new reality, especially after a decade of success that bred complacency. But RIM isn't even trying any more.
It's now crystal-clear there's a deeper problem at RIM: It doesn't view the BlackBerry as a platform but as a collection of one-off products. That is why the BlackBerry is a dead technology.
[ Lessons from mobile failure: RIM's "Innovator's Dilemma" moment. | Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]
RIM's statements on its BlackBerry strategy, stripped of the self-delusion, make that very clear.
"Forget what we said about BlackBerry OS 6 being the future"
Balsillie announced the latest great hope for RIM to grow its customer base, which iPhones and Android smartphones have been siphoning off for a couple years now. That hope is the Balance, the code name for the BlackBerry Bold 9900 device expected this summer that will run BlackBerry OS 6.1, an update to the major 6.0 release of last summer. Its browser is supposedly improved, and it supports near-field communication, such as for use in wireless payments. RIM is also touting its ability to support separate management of corporate and personal assets, but that was actually a capability introduced in BlackBerry OS 6 last summer.
Oh, and this update is called BlackBerry OS 7.0, in an attempt to pretend it is a major OS advancement. Users aren't stupid and will see this marketing trick for what it is.
Worse, BlackBerry OS 6.1/7.0 will run on the Balance device only -- it won't work with any previous BlackBerry model, not even the 6.0-based BlackBerry Torch that debuted a mere nine months ago or the BlackBerry Bold 9700 models that finally began getting the 6.0 update last month. That means RIM is orphaning all its current users, including those who reaffirmed their commitment by betting on the 6.0 OS that was supposed to be the basis of the BlackBerry's revitalized future. I bet they feel really stupid right now for believing RIM's promises.
The fact that RIM is releasing 6.1/7.0 for only the new devices also shows it does not view the BlackBerry as a platform. Back in the days when cellphones were just cellphones, the idea of being part of a platform -- like Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux PCs, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices -- simply made no sense. Each device was a one-off with prescribed capabilities (phone calls and, in the case of BlackBerry, text messaging).
The iPhone changed that, reinventing smartphones as mobile platforms where one OS ran on multiple devices so that users and application developers could count on consistency across devices. OS upgrades worked with at least a generation or two of previous models -- just like we all expect for PCs and servers. Google's Android adopted the same approach, even if its OS upgrades weren't as tightly managed and synchronized as Apple's iOS updates.