Monday, September 28, 2009

The Fate of Blackberry: Is RIM Following in Palm's Footsteps?

I remember when the Palm Treo was THE device for gadget geeks and mobile professionals. It was a true pioneer in the world of smart phones- a perfect blend of cell phone and PDA. However, over time, the Palm operating system (eventually known as Garnet) began to stagnate. It became buggy, unstable, and downright ugly in comparison other mobile OSes. Instead of continuing down it's path of innovation, Palm stuffed the same old operating system into (slightly) new variations of the same form factor, which frustrated users and eventually led to the platform's demise. The company suffered a major slump in market share and it's reputation was tarnished. With the advent of the Palm Pre and it's innovative WebOS, Palm has begun the process of rebuilding it's reputation - but only time will tell if they are successful at regaining consumer trust.

As Palm was sinking, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) was given a prime opportunity to steal the spotlight - and it did. RIM revamped it's brand and made it's business-centric Blackberry appealing to a wider variety of customers by adding consumer-friendly features (such as a camera and multimedia capabilities) to it's already rock-solid mobile experience. Consumers welcomed RIM's sturdy hardware and simple, secure, and stable operating system. Blackberry quickly became a must-have for business folks, celebrities, and general consumers.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm sad to say, as a loyal Blackberry user, I fear that RIM is following in Palm's footsteps. For years the Blackberry operating system has remained largely untouched. Newer versions of the software have simply introduced a new look and there have been some incremental changes feature-wise, but nothing groundbreaking. The build-quality of the devices has also cheapened quite a bit, which is likely a result of RIM expending it's resources on growing it's product line (or churning out many variations on the same form factor). Finally the Blackberry Storm, the company's first attempt at a touch screen phone, was a total mess with it's buggy software and rushed hardware. Rather than developing a new touch screen operating system from the ground up, RIM tweaked it's existing software and made it touch-capable. The result? A clumsy user-experience.

As far as market share is concerned, RIM is still in good shape, however, I'm concerned that the company may be falling back on its heels. Competition is growing at a rapid pace. Until recently, RIM was able to tout push email as a core advantage when choosing a Blackberry over another device - but Google, Apple, and Palm have all introduced their own push services. Sure, RIM's is still the tried-and-true top dog when it comes to email, but who knows what the competition has in store.

Joe Says: Don't get me wrong, incremental change is great and I'm a firm believer that if something ain't broke, don't fix it. However, when it comes to technology, things evolve so fast it's easy to fall behind if you aren't careful. Is RIM doomed? or is Blackberry here to stay? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

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