Gizmodo is calling doom on the Blackberry front:

Research In Motion needed a miracle. It needed a fresh-faced BlackBerry and an operating system that made people say “whoa.” Yet when it took the stage to unveil the BlackBerry Torch and the BlackBerry 6 operating system, one thing became clear: These were not heaven sent. This could very well mean the end for the BlackBerry.

If you’ve been paying attention to RIM lately, you’ll know two things: 1) That it sells more smart phones than anyone else in the United States, and is second only to Nokia worldwide. And, 2) it is experiencing slowed momentum and increasing consumer indifference in the face of dazzling competition. In short, RIM’s in a mid-life crisis.

The BlackBerry’s saving grace used to be its physical keyboard, something no iPhone would be caught dead with. But now that Google’s Android platform has taken off, it provides plenty of options that meet that simple requirement. And while businesses still buy BlackBerrys by the truckload, they don’t always buy premium models, and they don’t upgrade them every year.

This article may be right, depending on how you define “doom.” More on that later. Right now, though, I have a couple of points to make. First, be very, very cautious before ever saying that a market leader is “doomed.” They really have a margin of error that everybody else doesn’t have. By most accounts Nokia’s Symbian ought to be smithereens by now since almost nobody likes it, and yet they remain the market leader. That’s likely to change, but only because it’s so mediocre that Nokia itself is trying out new things. Second, the Blackberry’s physical keyboard is not its saving grace. Windows Mobile has had physical keyboards for years now. And Windows Mobile, unlike Android, has proven itself as a capable business device. That’s not to pump up WM, which itself is sort of being abandoned by its owner, but rather to point out that having a physical keyboard is not what made the Blackberry great.

What did make the Blackberry great? It’s relatively simple utilitarianism. It’s an outstanding communications device. The iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, and others try to be all things to all people and as communication devices are lacking in comparison to the Blackberry. Of course, Blackberry’s limitations in other areas is causing Research in Motion (the makers) some headaches. As time progresses, it will likely to cause them to continue losing market-share. But I suspect that they actually have a pretty high floor. I also suspect that a lot of the people that are going to look at other options will discover that a lot of what they do (or, more importantly, want the employees they are getting these devices for to do) they do very well. It’s not unlike my experience with Windows Mobile. I was all set to switch until I discovered things that it hadn’t occurred to me that other phones don’t do as easily. But mostly, as the article points out, a lot of Blackberries are purchased by third parties. Usually an employer. Whether or not their employee’s phone has a new app that can order pizza for you is not something they are concerned about.

Research in Motion opens the door to these sorts of criticisms, though, the more they try to branch out. It’s something I am seeing a lot when it comes to OSes. They don’t stick to the fundamentals. The upheave this or upend that when they mostly need to work on the fundamentals. Windows Vista is perhaps the most classic example. Windows XP was a great OS but also an OS that could use some improvement here and there. Rather than simply improve the parts that needed improving, they changed everything. Windows Mobile has done the same thing, adding new feature after new feature without changing the dreadful user interface. RiM’s chief liability is the difficult web-browsing. They should focus their energies on that.

So is RiM doomed? Like I said, it depends on what you mean by the word. If you are asking if they could lose their position as market-leader, that’s quite possible. But when you have a good niche, you don’t need to be a leader. That’s how Apple survived long enough to cash in on the iPod and the like. If you want a consumer toy that makes phone calls, the iPhone is hands-down better. If you want a handheld appliance that can maybe play audio, you go with Blackberry. That’s not a knock against the iPhone, which I would buy before I would buy a Blackberry, but it’s nonetheless how I would advise somebody choosing between the two of them.

On a sidenote, I have to comment on this:

And the screen? At 360 x 480, it isn’t even close to the baseline. Apple calls its 960 x 640 iPhone 4 screen Retina Display, since it has pixels so small the eye can’t see them. The BlackBerry Torch’s display has one third as many pixels in almost the same space. As All Things D’s John Paczkowski said on Twitter, “They should call it Cataract Display.”

That’s funny, because 360×480 is exactly the resolution that the iPhone had until six weeks ago! Meanwhile, Windows Mobile and Android were offering 480×640 as far back as mid-2008 and late last year*. And yet like so many other things, resolution only matters when it’s something that makes the iPhone look good instead of bad in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed as hell at the iPhone’s new resolution. The difference is that I care about resolution regardless of who is on top.

* – Actually, Windows Mobile had Pocket PCs with that resolution as far back as 2004, but I don’t count that since it didn’t have phone capability.

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One Response to Blackberry’s Doom?

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    For those who haven’t seen it, watch Pirates of Silicon Valley.

    In it, Apple is presented as the vanquished. 1999 was a LONG time ago.

    As far as casting, I thought Anthony Michael Hall and Noah Wyle were inspired choices as Gates and Jobs. Joey Slotnick as Wozniak was odd.

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