I was speaking on a panel on the topic of mobile. The moderator asked the panel what we thought about the future of BlackBerry. This was early in 2011 and RIM was a few months from selling the PlayBook.
The first four panelists represented telecoms and enterprise interests. I was the voice for the app economy. All four other panelists felt that BlackBerry was still in the game. I was dumbstruck. My response was simple.
They'll be dead. BlackBerry stopped being relevant to developers and consumers. It's now only a matter of time for the enterprise contracts to run out.
They were dead in the water and it seemed clear to me that they would be sold. I based my initial prediction on several facts.
- Their operating system was fragmented. I knew this because we had briefly tried to develop an app for the platform.
- They had Co-CEO's. An obvious issue of control and management. Worse it seemed that neither one was competent.
- I had played with the PlayBook at CES that year. It was buggy, more expensive then an iPad and had few apps.
- At the time BlackBerry's new phone and new operating system wasn't going to be ready for at least the 2011 holiday season.
- The BlackBerry touch phone, first the Storm then the Torch were selling poorly and it had been announced that a new QNX operating system would eventually replace current offerings.
That meant that the first window for a large marketing campaign would be pushed back to holiday 2012. The sales of PlayBook and current phones wouldn't provide enough revenue to impact the loss in quarterly sales to Apple and Google. Lastly the new phone operating system developed by QNX was unproven. Even if the phone was great it couldn't hope to have any developer support for at least 6-12 months post launch.
This scenario gave Apple and Google an 18 month head-start. Further Apple & Google's business models weren't reliant on a BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) further eroding profits.
BlackBerry underestimated the iPhone. There were reports since 2009 that BlackBerry CEO's felt that PUSH Email was a key feature that was very defensible. Further, their execs didn't seem to understand technology.
"By writing our browser in Java, that provides our CIOs and wireless managers the assurances they need, to allow the browser to access internal information at the same time it accesses external information."
The only change for RIM was to find a company with an OS that was ready to go. The chances were slim-to-none. QNX was as good as they could do.
There's only one company in history that has ever pulled off an operating system change and that company was Apple with NeXt.