Ubiquity Matters in the Mobile Phone Market

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-07-02

Is the BlackBerry's Advantage over the iPhone Ubiquity?

Research In Motion announced earlier this week that it plans to bring the BlackBerry Tour, the latest in its lineup of BlackBerry devices, to Verizon Wireless customers on July 12. The phone will go on sale for $200 after contract and rebate. Verizon Wireless claims it will allow owners to make calls in 220 countries around the globe. 

It's a smart move for RIM. The company that once easily controlled the enterprise market (and still relies heavily on the enterprise market for its business) is being pressured by Apple. For the past couple years, the iPhone was just another also-ran in the enterprise. It didn't have push e-mail, calendar and contacts; it didn't feature Exchange support; and it generally failed at providing enterprise customers with what they really wanted. For the first two years of its availability, the iPhone was a consumer device.

But all that has changed. The iPhone is now quite attractive to the enterprise. It finally sports push e-mail, calendar and contacts. It also has Exchange support. And after a long time waiting for it, the device now features copy and paste.

There's one more feature the iPhone has that could make a difference when companies decide on which product they want to buy: apps. Currently, the Apple App Store offers more than 50,000 applications. RIM's store has around 1,000 apps available to owners of the BlackBerry Bold, the BlackBerry Storm and soon, the BlackBerry Tour. That's quite a difference. It gets worse when you consider that many of the apps listed in the Apple App Store are designed specifically for business customers. Enterprise iPhone users can extend the functionality of their mobile devices far beyond anything possible in current BlackBerry models.

That's a real problem for RIM. All of the advantages it once clung to have been negated by Apple's recent updates. And worst of all, its hardware just doesn't appeal to users the way the iPhone does. RIM might still be performing well as a company, but it's debatable how long that success will last.

Or is it?

Ubiquity Matters in the Mobile Phone Market

RIM still has one major advantage in the mobile phone market that will undoubtedly appeal to the enterprise and in turn, make Apple's products just a little less bulletproof: ubiquity. Unlike the iPhone, which is only available to AT&T customers, a BlackBerry can be found on every major carrier. That means enterprise users can decide between the Bold on AT&T, the Tour on Verizon Wireless or the Curve on Sprint. Depending upon the contract their company signed with the carriers, employees should always be able to find a BlackBerry worth picking up at the local carrier's store. The same can't be said for Apple.

Although Apple might disagree, ubiquity really does matter in the mobile phone market. Users (and especially enterprise users) don't want to be locked down into a single carrier because of a phone they covet. In some areas, AT&T might provide the best service. In other areas, its coverage might be spotty, at best. Depending on where the company has offices, spotty coverage might require companies to ink deals with the best provider in each location.

Locking down the iPhone to one carrier is an issue for Apple. Granted, the iPhone is performing well. But in the enterprise, it's still lacking. Ubiquity really does matter. It makes companies agile. And it ensures that they're getting the best deals from carriers. Since the iPhone is only available on AT&T, it might be difficult for some companies to switch to the new carrier for the sake of a phone. In fact, it doesn't make much sense.

And that's precisely why RIM could enjoy similar success going forward. The company realizes that carrier-agnosticism really is the best way to do business. And it understands that in order to appeal to enterprise customers who want a full end-to-end experience, locking down the BlackBerry to a single carrier will not lead to RIM's ultimate success.

At the same time, how long will it take before Apple ditches AT&T and makes its iPhone available to multiple carriers? The company must know that enterprise users want to be able to choose their carriers.  And even some consumers who have been generally displeased with AT&T in the past are loath to switch, even though they want an iPhone. Apple is losing sales because of AT&T and it might only be a matter of time before it realizes that and brings the iPhone to other service providers.

But until then, RIM still holds the enterprise lead. It might not have the apps Apple provides, but it appeals to the enterprise customer through choice rather than software. That might not matter to consumers, but to business users who are constantly trying to find ways to reduce costs to stay competitive, it matters quite a bit.

So, perhaps RIM's last advantage over the iPhone really is ubiquity. And whether Apple wants to admit it or not, it's still a pretty big advantage.

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