Has RIM learned that mobile communication means more than BBM and email?

While our very own Jeff Bacon was in Orlando, Florida, for BlackBerry World to provide his unique brand of analysis, I can’t help but take a crack at something that has been running through my mind since last week’s keynote (the highlights of which can be found here).

The first to be led by new CEO Thorsten Heins, the keynote marked a clear articulation of the BlackBerry brand and RIM’s focus for BlackBerry 10. In an attempt to articulate the aspirations of “BlackBerry People”, Heins claimed that BlackBerry is about success. If BlackBerry smartphones are designed for successful ‘doers of things’, BlackBerry 10 will make it even easier for them to get things done.

While Thorsten’s keynote was perhaps the clearest articulation ever of what BlackBerry as a brand entails (who needs a CMO, right?), it did ring a little familiar. So familiar, in fact, that Jordan Crook of TechCrunch has lamented that RIM is trying to recapture a past glory that is no longer possible.

Crook’s displeasure mostly stems from comments made by Vivek Bhardwaj, Head of Software Portfolio EMEA for RIM, who stated in an interview prior to the event that BlackBerry isn’t necessarily for everyone. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s this market full of people who care first and foremost about messaging and social networking. Yes, apps are important, browsing is important, and games are important, but those aren’t what they value when they first use a smartphone.

They desire living technology — things they connect to and live and breathe by. BlackBerry is something people are always connected to. It’s an extension of their arm. That’s the type of audience we’re going for. What we’re trying to do is take the user interface and the design, and map it to the things they value like conversations and community, while making sure there’s no lag.

Cook takes this to mean that RIM “wants to be the king of messaging again.” What’s the problem with being the king of messaging in 2012? Well, messaging isn’t a differentiator anymore, it’s minimum viable product (MVP) for smartphones.

iMessage does basically the same exact thing as BBM now, but on an iPhone, and there are dozens of SMS-substitute apps (like WhatsApp) on both the App Store and Google Play. Granted, RIM still dominates in terms of secure corporate email and enterprise familiarity/reliability, but that consumer market has wandered elsewhere, searching for a little magic instead of a trackpad.

Messaging isn’t really a focus at all in today’s competitive landscape. Just because people are hyper-connected, socially active online, cognizant of their schedule, and constantly in communication, it doesn’t mean that they’re “BlackBerry people”. Hell, we buy phones to communicate, and text messaging has outweighed voice calls for a while now.

Cook’s criticism is partially accurate. Watching the keynote demo focused on BlackBerry 10’s touch screen keyboard (frets! Improved predictive text!), one is inclined to believe that RIM’s plans rest on doubling down with the demographic of people that bought BlackBerry smartphones in 2004 because they were BlackBerry smartphones, not because they were the only viable smartphone at the time (apologies to the long dead Treo). But the ability to ‘get things done’ is now why smartphone are smart, and while there is a subset of people that will always crave the best in class communications (the aforementioned 2004 bracket of bankers, lawyers, and government stiffs), it is now a very slim slice of the mobile pie.

Of course, that wasn’t the only BlackBerry 10 keynote demo.

The above video demonstrates that RIM knows communication isn’t just about BBMs and emails anymore. It’s about HD photos and videos, Instagram and memespotting, playing Draw Something with Facebook friends, and a thousand other things that appeal to the average consumer. Ignoring for the moment a debate on the level of actual innovation in BlackBerry 10 (it has since been revealed that RIM didn’t develop the technology itself, but is in fact licensing it from Scalado), it’s clear that RIM is doing what it can to evolve, rather than recapture, its legacy.

One fancy demo (and to be honest, for an email junkie like me, the keyboard demo was cool too) does not guarantee salvation, but it does indicate that RIM finally recognizes the mobile game has changed. That’s an important step in learning how to win.

About the author

Douglas Soltys

Douglas is the former Editor-In-Chief of Inside BlackBerry, BlackBerry Cool, and QuicklyBored, which he launched as a mobile gaming industry site. His knowledge of mobile and social media led him to a job at RIM (BlackBerry), where he got to travel the world and do lots of cool things. He is often left-handed, but rarely sinister.

  • When RIM’s CEO talks about ‘BlackBerry People’ he’s talking, at least in large part, about people that have a lot of information and communications to manage every day. Basic messaging is definitely MVP on any mobile platform today, but if you’re dealing with multiple email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, calendars for more than just yourself (kids, family, etc.), plus any other apps you use that include communications (LinkedIn, eBay, Path, etc…) it’s not just having messaging that’s important, but managing the information. iOS PAINFUL to use to manage even just 2 email accounts (hello? can I have different signatures for work and personal please Apple?), and flipping between calendars and email and contacts and everything does not scale well for people that use much more than the basic MVP messaging functionality. RIM is building a platform to cater towards these people — not to the people that are satisfied with the most basic communications functionality that is minimally required to get by. Are those traditional BlackBerry users? For sure, but it’s also a lot of people now that are managing multiple communications/social/messaging platforms who were, in the past, just using email.

  • Good read Douglas.. RIM does an amazing job on these cool new features and how to hype them but lately they have been trending 3 months later you never see them or this is in version 2 of the product. I really hope everything that RIM is showing is going to be available the day BB10 devices launch.

    Let’s hope also that RIM does not forget about the small little features that make people not want to trow their phone out the window.. EG I just bought a $30,000 2013 Mazda CX-5 and the built in hands free woks amazing, the Bluetooth remote control support…… sad is all I can say, almost unusable some days. The BlackBerry will play 2 songs at the same time some how, the audio information displayed will show one song but play the one ahead of it. This is a brand new 2013 model vehicle, why does my BlackBerry not work with it? I plug my friends iPod into it and it works perfect with zero issues. Why because Apple set a standard and it just works. I know A2DP is not RIMs Bluetooth Profile and it takes both sides to be make sure they are correct for it to work perfect. Why does RIM not make available devices to manufactures to make sure that they can test and find bugs on either side so that out of the box there is never an issue. RIM might think this is a waste of time or resources, or they cannot afford it but what they cannot afford is the fact that I am a hardcore RIM fan and this problem is pushing me to buying an iPod for my car, or even worse get a iPhone because I know it works!

    This kind of thing makes me want to throw my BlackBerry out the windows some days. It really ticks me off when I see these Porsche vehicles all integrated and awesome with RIM technology…. well RIM I don’t drive a Porsche I drive a typical car! Why does my simple Bluetooth remote control suck but I can control time and manipulate photos and faces in those photos… again amazing technology but make sure you are building on success not bugs or else those things mean absolutely nothing. 

  • That’s why I love you buddy. You took 500 words to say “if RIM wants be be known for ‘getting things done’, BlackBerry has to ‘just work’.” =D

  • Well I have learned if you are going to complain about something you better have an example so that if someone (RIM) is listening they can see the problem being spoken about!

    Let’s rock and roll this RIM!

  • Windows phone already integrates everything for these people, including the features you are referring to (especially the features you are referring to).  iOS is not the only game in town, just the only one that still resembles Windows 3.1. 

  • Abhijeet P.

    EDIT: considering this article was written months ago, their developer relations initiatives may not have been seen as strong as it is now

    They’ve always had twitter, facebook, yahoo messenger, msn messenger, google talk there through out the set up process on their BB smartphones, so its innaccurate to suggest that they just had BBM and email as their social media tools.

    The problem now is that there are new social media platforms that have been added to the mix of the old standard email, twitter, facebook, there’s Pinterest, instagram, skype and others that have just not made it yet to Blackberry in the past.

    They have realized this possibly before Thorsten Heins took the reigns and started to get those apps to Blackberry. This thought can be reinforced by their developer relations they’ve been building the past year. Having hack-a-thons, port-a-thons, conferences all over the world to attract as many developers they can to build a stronger app platform from the start of Blackberry 10 for both enterprise and the consumer market. While they may not have all the apps yet they are getting some major ones that consumers have asked for, with more in the future.

    They are now focusing not just on social media, email, and enterprise they are putting their time and resources into the consumer market by building their ecosystem by having a stable gaming platform, media platform for music, movies, tv shows through their new Blackberry World.

    I dont think their focus is mainly social media, but its about building that rich ecosystem provided by Apple and Google. The people “who do” don’t just email and work on their social media but need to do everything else too whether its work or personal. That’s what they have realized hopefully and better now than never.

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