Friday, February 1, 2013

Blackberry RIMs out while Apple goes for the rebound

I am a reformed (retired?) basketball player.  In my younger days I would swoop and glide over the court.  Although I donated my right ACL to the University of Idaho, to this day I'd still be playing the game if I could.  But you didn't come here to read about my adventures with the roundball.  That being said, there is that story about how I dropped 41 points on....never mind.

Staying with basketball for just a moment, there is a term from the game called "Rimmed Out".  This happens when a shooter fires up a great shot that appears to go in for a score.  However, at the last minute the ball spins around inside the rim of the basket and comes flying back out.  In other words, the shooter is getting ready to head back down the court with 2 or 3 more points to their stats only to see a "make" turn into a "miss" at the last second.

Now that you have the analogy, let's take a look at the big event in technology this week.  RIM, the maker of the venerable Blackberry phone did four major things all at once.  To recap:
  • RIM changed its name permanently to Blackberry
  • Blackberry introduced its new phone, the Blackberry 10/Z10
  • Blackberry introduced a brand new operating system called "Flow"
  • Blackberry announced that they would be rolling out their own app store and has signed contracts with major content providers to make movies, games, and songs available in their new environment

Well, that's all well and good.  Or is it?  To answer that question we have to look at two of the biggest reasons why Blackberries still exist in the phone lexicon in this day and age.  First, people are and have always been extremely loyal to the physical, tactile keyboard.  Both Apple and Samsung (Android) phones have migrated to virtual keyboards.  To many Blackberry loyalists, nothing could beat the feeling of typing on actual keys.  From a personal note, I have watched more than one 45+ year old executive typing at least 70 words per minute on a Blackberry.  I kid you not.  The second reason people carried Blackberries so religiously was for their amazing battery life.  Unlike an iPhone or Android unit where both models have batteries that barely last a day, a person could take a Blackberry and throw it into a briefcase or backpack and come back 3-4 days later and still have at least a half charge remaining.

So what is new with the Blackberry 10?  To start, the tactile keyboard is gone only to be replaced by a virtualized one.  What??  The new Blackberry now looks suspiciously like an iPhone.  Upon testing, the Blackberry 10 is extremely fast.  At this time it has a 1.5 Ghz dual core processor.  Sounds pretty impressive but I never heard anyone complaining about the processing power of Blackberry before.  Given the speed, the battery life of the new Blackberry can now be measured in hours, not days.  THAT sounds surprisingly like the Android-based Samsung Galaxy 3.

Given the facts listed just above, it appears to this author that Blackberry has positioned itself to the anti-Apple, anti-Android iPhone/Galaxy.  Sounds like a losing strategy both to me and the folks around the office here who were hoping for something so much more.  Given the convergence of tablets and smartphones and the fact that Blackberry has nothing like that in the works, I would not be too sanguine on their prospects.  Investors sure aren't - before the Blackberry 10 announcement, RIM's stock was trading above $18/share.  In just four days it's back down to around $13/share.

On another note, Apple just announced both record sales numbers for iPhones and record profits for the company as a whole.  Why then did the Apple stock drop more than $100/share (!!!) directly afterwards?  There are surprising correlations, in my opinion, to Blackberry.  Unlike RIM who actually failed to impress, people are much more concerned about what Apple can do to impress in the future, especially with the iPhone.  Since 2010 Apple has trickled out various perks on each version of the iPhone including better cameras, faster processors, a cooler iOS (ahem), a bigger screen, and FINALLY access to the LTE/4G network.  The huge question for Apple, given the expectations upon it each quarter, is what it can do next.  More memory, faster processors, and different form factors aren't going to cut it this time.

Blackberry is getting pummeled and will probably fade away because they failed to do much other than copy technology from its competition circa 2011.  Apple is getting punished because nobody has a good idea of what they can or will do in order to "wow" consumers.  Will it go in an entirely new direction with an iPhone 6 or serve up another disappointing "S" version of the iPhone 5?  Because of Blackberry's stumble, if Apple boxes out correctly (another basketball term) it will be in a prime position to rebound with authority.

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