BlackBerry is on the decline. There’s no question about that. From being a dominant smartphone platform in the better part of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the dominance of BlackBerry (formerly Research-in-Motion) had been challenged when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, and when Android started its meteoric rise shortly thereafter.
Now BlackBerry accounts for less than 3 percent of the smartphone market. The platform is only holding out in a few regions and markets, and even in holdout places like Indonesia and other emerging markets, BlackBerry is on a steady decline.
Such is the way of technology. A platform experiences a rise to its golden age, and is soon supplanted by better technology – or at least a better-marketed one, as many a tech company has experienced. Even Apple saw its own decline, until founder and ousted former CEO Steve Jobs stepped up with his now-famous second act in the company in the mid-1990’s.
But will BlackBerry experience its second renaissance? Judging from a recent feature article on Canadian magazine Globe and Mail, the company has been attempting to revitalize its business, particularly with the development and launch of BlackBerry 10. However, the ship may have long sailed, with BlackBerry, its executives and corporate board having made a lot of mis-steps along the way.
We might yet see BlackBerry rise up from the ashes, but until then, businesses and entrepreneurs can learn a few things from the company’s rise and fall as a business and as a mobile platform.
BlackBerry had been guilty of three big things, which may have spelled doom for the company and its mobile platform. Brands that are currently in the lead — such as Apple and Android device manufacturers like Samsung — might want to take heed.
1. Don’t forget your strengths in favor of hype
At its peak, BlackBerry was popular for its QWERTY keyboard phones, push messaging service and its closed ecosystem. When Apple launched the iPhone, it went all-touchscreen, and it launched an app ecosystem shortly after its launch. BlackBerry tried to follow suit by focusing on its own BlackBerry App World, and thereafter developing fully-touch screen smartphones.
Its first fully-touchscreen device, the Storm, barely got any interest. Its next flagship device, the Z10, was a market disappointment. Its latest flagship, the Z30, was not even being offered by Canada’s biggest carrier, Rogers until almost a month after launch.
BlackBerry initially wanted to focus on its strengths – including keyboard-equipped smartphones. Infighting within its corporate board resulted in a focus on primarily touchscreen devices. But given the lackluster user experience that its operating system brought, the platform lagged behind.
2. Know when to pivot
Businesses need to learn to pivot and to know when. In business parlance, pivoting means doing a sharp turn and shifting to an altogether new business model or strategy. BlackBerry had the chance to pivot when its co-CEO Jim Balsillie wanted to offer BlackBerry Messenger as a cross-platform service, spanning Android and iOS. He even wanted carriers to adopt BBM as the de facto SMS version 2.0, which will directly compete against the likes of iMessage and other cross-platform messaging services.
Sadly, that proposal had been shot down. Today, the likes of LINE, Viber and WhatsApp earn tens of millions of dollars each month from the sale of premium items like stickers and multimedia on their chat platforms.
BlackBerry, meanwhile, had a botched cross-platform BBM launch this September. Opening BBM to other platforms early on could have given the company a headstart in competing against independent chat providers. But now, even the supposed summer launch of BBM on Android and iOS has been indefinitely delayed, and BBM may have already lost its chance once it does make the launch.
3. Love your community
In its quest to refresh its user experience to match the needs of a fully-touchscreen platform, BlackBerry made a big switch to the QNX platform. This alienated its developer base, many of which have had to rewrite their apps from scratch. Some did not even bother. Because of the perceived lack of support for its developer community, the platform’s app marketplace has languished, to the point that BlackBerry has had to run hackathons and developer competitions to get fresh new apps and app ideas for its BB10 platform.
In contrast, it has been a vibrant app ecosystem that pushed iOS and Android to the top, with users using their devices primarily as platforms for these apps more than actual phones. Understandably, BlackBerry had to shift platforms in order to meet the needs of going touchscreen, but at the expense of its app development community.
BlackBerry may still have a chance at a revival. The company is planning to sell its assets and focus instead on becoming a software and services company. Its push for cross-platform BBM could still be its saving grace, as the brand still has strong roots in the enterprise market. In recent news, BlackBerry is making a push for cross-platform enterprise management software that will cater to companies that encourage BYOD (bring-your-own-device) setups.
In summary, BlackBerry’s decline has been the result of missed targets, lack of agility and a problematic corporate structure and culture. Even as strong platforms and companies like Apple, Google and Samsung are at the top right now, these might want to take heed, lest their platforms become supplanted by a stronger, more sellable one a few years down the road.
The question now is this: can BlackBerry still reinvent itself?