How the Blackberry Can Get Its Mojo Back

Though still successful, Blackberry is no longer the must-have gadget for the mobile crowd. What do they need to do to reclaim their position of leadership?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, to own a Blackberry wasn’t to simply own a smartphone – it was to possess a symbol. Carrying around a Blackberry meant you were a successful, busy person, often ahead of the curve and definitely on top of your game.

Oh my, how times have changed.

While you could hardly argue that Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry, are doing poorly, it would be equally mistaken to say Blackberries are still the symbol of success they used to be. Despite the fact that their market share is actually up, after the arrival of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS, new platforms have taken over the Blackberry’s position as the latest-and-greatest mobile technology in most people’s minds.

But with Blackberry widely expected to make an announcement regarding their future at the Wireless Enterprise Syposium, many are hoping for big things. And with the consumer market being the most fertile ground for smartphone growth, Blackberry just can’t come out with something merely ‘good’ – it has to be seriously impressive and aimed at as wide an audience as possible.

Here is a short list of the thing RIM need to do to bring the sexy back to the Blackberry and regain their position at the cutting edge of the mobile space.

A Touchscreen-Physical Keyboard Combo

Touchscreens are the future – this much is indisputable. The adaptable nature of the interface, coupled with intuitive gestures like swiping and pinch-and-zoom represent a significant step up from the clunky, hard-to-use interfaces of early smartphones.

That said – I’d rather drag my naked body through a mile of broken glass than type out a full email on my iPhone. Sure, you get better at it after a while. Sure, it’s okay for short text messages. But typing on a touchscreen is not only frustrating, it just can’t compare to the speed and responsiveness of a  tactile keyboard.

The keyboard has always been Blackberry’s strength. Combining that with a touchscreen, whether in a slider or a model shaped like the Bold, allows the best of both worlds and will allow Blackberries to maintain their practical reputation with the business crowd while challenging Apple and Android for usability and slickness.

Also, RIM? The clicky-screen of the Storm doesn’t count. We’re talking about a responsive touch screen and the classic Blackberry keyboard. Do it. Do it now. Seriously.

A New Web Browser

Let’s face it: even if you hate everything about Apple, the iPhone changed what we could expect when it came to mobile browsing. While the limited memory and lack of flash means it isn’t quite a desktop-quality experience, it’s light years beyond what we got in the past.

But Blackberries have failed to keep up. While the browser in OS 5.0 was a definite improvement, ultimately it just wasn’t as compelling as the browser on the iPhone or in Android, again because not all Blackberry’s had touchscreens.

To improve, RIM need a new browser built from the ground up, hopefully using Webkit (the same base used for both Safari and Chrome), with an emphasis on both speed and compatibility. It must render things quickly, correctly, and with the wind blowing in the direction of HTML5, it must support that too.

And if there were some magic way to implement Flash without overly draining performance and battery life, that would be amazing – but that’s probably just wishful thinking.

An Improved Media Player

The days of carrying a separate phone and MP3 player are coming to an end for all but the most committed audiophiles. But the current Blackberry music interface still remains clunky, and is yet another aspect of the operating system that would vastly improve with an emphasis on both touchscreens and their usability. What little we’ve seen of Blackberry OS 6.0 looks promising in this regard, but this needs to remain an area of constant attention for RIM because it’s just where things are headed.

Half the battle here is that a slick media player means you not only expand your market to tech-savvy youngsters with cash to burn, you also cement your status in the tech world’s mind as a contemporary, media-savvy player. This is about more than simply making your phone usable – it’s about making it cool.

Blackberry App World Needs Some Pizazz

Speaking of being cool….

Part of the reason that Blackberry seems to have lost some cachet is that their App World just doesn’t stick out in people’s minds as the place for neat, cool, fun apps. Though there has been a thriving app development market long before anyone had even heard of an iPhone, Blackberry’s platform has fallen behind even the very new Android Market.

To fix this, RIM should do two things. First, commission and fund the development of a few high-profile applications to raise the status of the platform. Facebook, Foursquare or Evernote, though good already, would all be great candidates that would benefit from some RIM input and the benefits of touch screens. After all, joint development means that you can use them in your marketing, which would be a huge plus.

Secondly, pick up some newer, up-and-coming mobile app developers and encourage them to create innovative, ‘fun’ apps to appeal to a younger, social crowd. If Blackberry is to be seen as more than just a corporate entity, it needs its own signature apps, not simply ports from iPhone OS or Android.

Better Marketing

It’s a sad fact, but RIM just aren’t very good at selling themselves to the broader public, and it’s a major weakness. And as Palm has proved with the Pre , a strange marketing campaign can kill an otherwise decent device – and the impressive success of Motorola’s Droid proves the inverse of that equation too.

The fact is that more and more consumers are moving to smartphones. If RIM wants to capture some of the mindshare currently occupied by Apple and Google, what it needs is not to simply sell the virtues of its devices, but needs to appeal to them by appealing to their vanity and their desires. It’s not pretty, but every successful company – particularly Apple – has done this to great effect.

Play to Your Strengths But Don't Rest on Them

Looking at the current numbers, Research in Motion’s business is doing quite well. But you can only lose mindshare among the general population for so long until you start to become irrelevant. Go ask Palm about this.

In order to recapture their position as market leaders, what RIM need to do is to build upon their existing corporate success by continuing to add consumer-friendly features with a greater emphasis on media and apps.

The Pearl and Bold were a decent start. But if RIM want to cement their future for the next decade, they need to start thinking about interfaces and usability. A touchscreen-tactile keyboard combo is a great mid-point between business and consumer interests, while better media functions and a more appealing App World are ways to appeal to a younger crowd. Factor in more social-media friendly apps and a committment to innovation, and RIM could not only stave off the immense challenge presented by Google and Apple, but succeed in the face of it. Additionally, with Nokia’s once dominant Symbian fading quickly, a huge gap will open up in the market.

And who other than RIM, perfectly situated between ‘Wall St. and Main St.’, is better positioned to pounce?

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
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Comments

12 Comments »

 
#1
Joe
April 27th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Dude that is just too crazy!

Lou

 
 
#2
Aston
May 20th, 2010 at 6:51 am

I really think that what the blackberry is missing is apps…Like lets say for instance Skype….WHAT IF? JUST WHAT IF? Blackberry could create an application for Skype by the use of video chatting with your friends through your phone. This would create a whole other revenue for the RIM.

I believe that Blackberry is still going to rise above or get on the same levels as the Iphone and the Android. It is still going to be used in the business world and corporate America.

The Blackberry needs to have a nice touchscreen and keyboard combination. Like I said before better apps and more attraction of style of the phone and they should come back on top.

 
 
#3
custangro
April 27th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

RIM needs to just do 1 thing

Take Andorid; and modify it with a nice interface

 
 
#4
Dave
April 27th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

There is really only one true flaw to the blackberry…. DEVICE MEMORY

The biggest and best thing they could do is add memory to the device itself.

Memory cards for a blackberry are next to worthless.

Make an 8g blackberry and call it a day. Having no memory limits my number of apps and a slow running phone if its full.

I could careless for touchscreen really.

Give me 8gigs already in my blackberry and Ill be happy.

 
 
#5
Dax
April 27th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I beg to differ. I think blackberry is a very successful device. It’s not a niche device as it used to; and a prove of that is they are selling out. Yes, before it used to be a status symbol; but if you are the owner, who you rather be? the one that sells 3 apples or the one selling a truck load of apples? I think they are moving in the right direction with BOS 6, but I think they need a more complete overhaul of their operating system. Why not? getting Android and making it theirs, their own UI.

 
 
#6
LS
April 27th, 2010 at 10:31 pm

1. Redo your entire messaging interface. Its fucking awful.

2. Innovate. You haven’t done this in a decade.

3. Hire a designer with credentials in making something aesthetically pleasing. Most BB are fugly by todays standards.

4. Find your own Steve Jobs. Someone very canny who can tell you what users want, and will accept no compromises.

 
 
#7
fjordz
April 27th, 2010 at 11:28 pm

I agree with Dax,

BB is in the right direction. Well, I guess, for it to be opened to a more wider audience is something that the company would love to do rather than being a status symbol. This is still business.

And yes, iPhone and Android may have overtaken BB for its added features. BB should consider this battle too aside from opening their products to a wider market.

 
 
#8
dualcardvdplayer
April 28th, 2010 at 3:10 am

The good news is, all the new Blackberries have come with the infrared thumbpad, and it’s a major improvement. And the new OS will be coming with a Webkit-based browser. This is what Safari, Chrome, the Android browser and others use.

 
 
#9
baby-buggy-stroller
April 29th, 2010 at 4:14 am

I recently bought an iPhone and the touch keyboard is fantastic. For starters, the “buttons” are not overloaded with multiple symbols like the BB. And the auto-correct functionality as you type is awesome.

The only thing that struck me was the letter keys are always uppercase – even when you’re typing in lowercase. They should follow the Nintendo DS (and others, probably) and show lowercase, switching to uppercase when you press shift.

 
 
#10
OMS
April 29th, 2010 at 5:02 am

I have had a few blackberries and I think they do their job very very well.

I’m no fan of Mr Jobs’s app gulag & I love my keyboard that I can feel when I’ve pressed a key, touch screens are ok but all that glass or plastic is fragile and the lack of feedback is not something I like.

Give me a real keyboard AND the ability to load apps from where _I_ see fit.

YMMV
OMS

 
 
#11
Techwatch
May 14th, 2010 at 4:43 am

I am a vote for the lack of memory its the thorn in the side of the device

 
 
#12
Derek
July 5th, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I recently purchased the blackberry storm 2 .Blackberry strengh is its email service Its core customer are business professional who depend on this strength. However, those same professionals like to surf the net with a fast browser. They don’t mind paying for apps that create value to their interest.Their is no voice navigation with google maps. Why? There is no database to wirelessly synch your contacts and keep your phone numbers. Why? There is not a phone that caters to men with large hands.Why? I am very loyal consumer to a company that wants to win. Unless something changes quickly. Apple and Google will make history of your company. Get Busy..

 

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