BlackBerry Users Slam RIM as Smartphone Maker Plans Comeback
In June, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion posted a $518 million quarterly loss, said it would lay off 5,000 workers in a cost-saving measure and announced that the release of its much-needed, long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform and new smartphones would be delayed again until early 2013. Then it braced for the worst.
But that likely didn't stop an Oct. 15 New York Times article from stinging.
"I'm ashamed of it," one BlackBerry user told the Times in an article about how the BlackBerry, a status symbol just three years ago when RIM controlled 50 percent of smartphone market, has become an embarrassment to users—something to hide under the table in the company of iPhone users—as RIM now struggles to hold on to the 5 percent share it has left.
As of May, Apple's iPhone controlled a 30 percent share of the market while Google's Android grabbed 51 percent of the pie.
"I want to take a bat to it. You can't do anything with it," another user told the Times. "You're supposed to, but it's all a big lie."
Someone else complained, "I feel absolutely helpless. You're constantly watching people do all these things on their phones and all I have going for me is my family's BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) chats."
The article didn't say whether these users had the most up-to-date devices—BlackBerry 7—or if they had purchased the phones or been given them by their employers.
"While BlackBerry users do come in for some ribbing, users who choose the device have good reasons to do so," Technology Business Research analyst Ezra Gottheil told eWEEK. "Those who complain are probably given one at work and would prefer a device that’s better for recreation, like an iPhone or Android, to a workhorse BlackBerry."
With BlackBerry 10, RIM has every intention of offering a device that's equal parts recreation and workhorse. However, articles like the Times' suggest that not every current BlackBerry user will stick around to find that out.
During an August interview, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told eWEEK that BlackBerry 10 will offer a "very strong" consumer experience. Comments he made on this topic earlier in the year were initially misunderstood to mean that RIM was getting out of the consumer market. Heins clarified that he meant RIM wouldn't create many of the consumer-focused applications itself but would turn to partners with expertise.
"I'm not going to develop games anymore, I'm not going to develop maps—there's a company out there that really can do it better than I can. So I need to partner, I need to get them on board, I need to get them a great programming interface, and off we go," said Heins.
Regarding the Times article, Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi pointed out two things, the first being that lots of BlackBerry handsets are work-issued.
"You do not think something your IT department gives you is cool," she said. Also, "QWERTY is no longer cool, and that is the first thing you see."
Dedicated QWERTY keypads are a point of pride at RIM and a must-have for some BlackBerry diehards, though RIM has also begun making full touch-screen devices with on-screen keypads, like iPhones and Android smartphones have. Its first BlackBerry 10 smartphones will include QWERTY and touch-screen options, and regarding the latter, Heins told eWEEK that innovations RIM has made to the on-screen keypad on BlackBerry 10 phones will "raise the bar" for the entire industry.
Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, pointed out that it's important to consider whether BlackBerry functionality is as awful as those interviewed by the Times implied that it is.
"If so, it's going to make selling any next-gen BlackBerry problematic. If not, RIM really needs to get the word out ASAP," he told eWEEK. "Waiting until January to make their case would be suicidal."
Ruth Casselman, RIM's senior manager of business and government communications, responded to eWEEK's request for a comment on the Times article by pointing out "a number of inaccuracies" and saying that it "lacks the balance RIM and our 80 million BlackBerry customers expect."
Casselman pointed out that BlackBerry users can make reservations on OpenTable and Yelp; that the current BlackBerry browser "is the fastest mobile browser on the market and has won accolades in head-to-head comparisons"; that it's the "world's top mobile platform for social networking; and, among other points, that BlackBerry "boasts the most robust and secure global network."
Casselman added, "We listen closely to our users, happy and otherwise, and incorporate their feedback into everything we do—including the upcoming BlackBerry 10, which will be the first ground-up platform built for a new era of truly mobile computing."
RIM has done a good job of informing the press of its plans (a cheaper route to the consumer, no doubt). But now, is it time for RIM to hire the best ad agency possible and to get the world—if not just current BlackBerry users—again excited about the brand?
"They first need to have the devices," remarked Gartner's Milanesi, "before they think about how they are going to market them."