I don't pretend to be one of the smartphone technorati. I'm a business technology guy who relies on staffers to provision smartphones that make employees and their work more efficient. And I try to bet on financially sustainable vendors unless the short-term benefit outweighs the longer-term risk.
So on the day after the big BlackBerry announcement, I'm doing what guys like me do: reading what the smartphone technorati have to say on the subject and surfing the BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) website to see how this is all relevant for me. I have bad news for the company formerly known as RIM: I'm not excited, and I don't think my peers are, either.
Hovering over the banner on the new BlackBerry website, I read: "Take advantage of offers, tools and resources to help you leverage your existing BlackBerry investment!" Um, what BlackBerry investment? Unlike InformationWeek's Secret CIO, John McGreavy, we decommissioned our last BlackBerry Enterprise Server about six months ago. While McGreavy's organization has given in a bit to the iPhone and Android wave, it still runs BES. But most CIOs I speak with are somewhere between "decommissioning" and "have decommissioned." BlackBerry's focus on "leverage your investment" is just too little, too late.
[ Want to see what all the fuss is about? Take a visual tour of the new BB 10 smartphones and operating system. ]
But I clicked on the "get the details" link anyway. Turns out I can get a free BlackBerry 10 smartphone for my organization, begging the question: Can I get our people to let go of their beloved iPhones to take it for a test drive? I can also get a free upgrade to our existing BES licenses -- pretty cool -- if we hadn't decommissioned the BES server and if our staff hadn't taken it out back and beaten it like those guys do in the movie Office Space.
What else? "Get actionable insights from weekly webcasts you can use to ensure your enterprise will be ready." And look, they're coming to a city near me so that we can get super duper excited and ready! But does my municipal enterprise want to be ready?
The same things Apple and Google did to steal the top spot from the company formerly known as RIM are not going to help the company now known as BlackBerry regain the top spot. Neither my IT nor line-of business co-workers will care.
BlackBerry is trying to entice end users with the same kinds of candy -- books, videos, music -- that Apple and Google used to overtake the company formerly known as RIM. That tactic worked for Apple because there was a "candy gap" in the market. BlackBerry toys never cut it, unless you considered Brick Breaker state-of-the-art entertainment. And as a CIO, I'm not particularly interested that BlackBerry 10 promises a slew of "apps, games, music, videos, books, magazines and more."
Apple offered awesome consumer features and enough enterprise features to force execs like me to enlist a mobile device management vendor to provide the needed enterprise control. Most of us have taken our "consumerization" lumps and implemented solutions. We're living in a detente era, my friends, and without a really great reason to change the balance of power, nobody will want to.
The new social contract between end users and IT requires a smartphone platform rich with end user candy and IT pragmatics. For BlackBerry to regain its crown, it must do as well or better at both, plus offer some innovation that Apple or Google couldn't quickly match. I'm not optimistic.
It does appear that BlackBerry is trying hard, announcing 70,000 apps for its new platform. That's not surprising considering that the company gave away a reported 25,000 units to developers to encourage application development.
From an enterprise standpoint, I'm not in the camp that thinks the super high BlackBerry level of device control is necessary or effective. A more pressing issue for me is the extent to which enterprise application developers will support this new mobile platform.
In addition to rolling out email and personal productivity apps such as Snap2PDF and Toodledo on smartphones, my shop is starting to roll out enterprise apps. A lot of IT shops are. We didn't develop these smartphone apps; they came with the enterprise software we bought, so we must use the platform those developers support. So, for example, for our building safety app, we can choose one of two platforms: iOS or Android, not BlackBerry. Point is, both Apple and Google have had so much market success that the enterprise software developers want to ride along. It will be difficult for BlackBerry to convince the ISV crowd that it's back from the dead, making it that much harder for enterprise IT to re-adopt BlackBerry.
In my mind, RIM was dead at the point when it mustered a lousy response to a four-day service outage, at a time when salespeople and the C-suite of multibillion-dollar companies were afflicted with iPhone envy. This can't end well, I thought.
Rather than ask the question "Will the company formerly known as RIM survive?" we need to ask a different question: "Would a startup succeed with what BlackBerry is bringing to the table?"
Only if it totally lets go of its failed legacy and disrupts the market and the balance of power with true innovation. But with new products that don't go beyond what's now leading the market, and a focus on "leverage your existing investment," I'm highly skeptical.