I’ve often found it odd when vendors who have a stable and happy customer base panic and suddenly feel they need to chase someone else. That never ends well, which is why I think Apple’s increasing focus on chasing Samsung isn’t turning out so well. RIM did that initially with Apple and darn near kissed its market goodbye. But with the Blackberry 10 launch, the company seems to be going back to its business roots. This doesn’t mean it is abandoning the fun stuff; it’s just making sure that work-oriented customers get a phone that specifically targets them.
Based on what I heard at the Blackberry 10 launch today, this is a line that both users and IT could love. But it isn’t an iPhone killer. It is an iPhone alternative. There is a distinct difference.
Consumer vs. Business Primary Focus
If you look at the vast majority of phones that came out after the iPhone was launched, they were first and foremost entertainment platforms. You could look at your favorite Web sites, play your favorite games, listen to music, and watch movies. Most pretty much sucked when it came to communication and as far as security goes, they seemed to figure that what you didn’t know wouldn’t hurt their sales.
The end result was more and more phones with stunning colors, pretty displays, and faster processors and radios but not much when it came to doing work.
You can understand how this happened. Folks had tried to be better than RIM at business and largely failed, so they just focused on the consumer and found that consumers were employees, and employees were able to demand that IT support whatever they wanted. It was great for employees (until there was a problem), but IT, well, not so much.
Going Back to Business
RIM could emulate Apple in product announcements and focusing the company, but chasing it on product was going to be a losing proposition. So the company took the stuff it could use and made the product business first.
The company has been renamed after the product line, so now Blackberry is like Apple, and it did an Apple-like launch, replacing Steve Jobs with Alicia Keys (more on this later), while focusing on the user experience and pageantry surrounding a flagship product. And it made damn sure that it had IT needs up front and central so the device is designed to be remotely managed/wiped. It has launch partners like SAP, BMC and Citrix and showcased that it listened to businesses that wanted an iPhone-like product they could trust.
We have two form factors, one iPhone-like and the other a traditional Blackberry with a keyboard. This is to make sure the company can address the need to have a business-oriented, iPhone-like device for those who wanted to be trendy and a more traditional Blackberry for those who couldn’t give up a keyboard.
Why a Keyboard?
While the showcase phone, the Z10, doesn’t have a keyboard, Blackberry launched a second phone, the Q10, that uses a more traditional Blackberry form factor and has a keyboard. The reason for a keyboard is that they not only tend to be faster for data entry, with less missed keys, but you can blind type on them, which is handy for texting or taking notes in meetings, and is safer if you are doing anything else while texting like, say, taking notes on what you are seeing while doing an inventory. This is a clear entertainment/business trade off and one that showcases Blackberry’s unique business focus. This won’t be the form factor that will appeal to most entertainment users, but those that stayed with the Blackberry for work generally did it because of the fact that they found the mechanical keyboard more useful.
I actually think that more folks who were pulled by peer pressure to screen phones are likely to find this traditional form factor their primary reason for coming back to Blackberry. The screen line will be more popular with those new to Blackberry.
Wrapping Up: Replacing Steve Jobs
One of the things that has fascinated me about Apple is that the company clearly knew how important Jobs was but hasn’t replaced him as a product advocate. He was the guy the products were built for and he got us all to believe we wanted what he wanted. Tim Cook not only doesn’t do that, he can’t. Blackberry had Alicia Keys as its creative director, and she told us she was going to help drive the firm to build products that would target business women. Granted, convincing us that she actually has a say in the design of the phones will be harder than was the case with Jobs, given that he was a founding CEO, but this is the closest I’ve seen to a company trying to create a super advocate like Jobs was.
It will be fascinating to see this last play out, because if Blackberry pulls this off, it will showcase what Apple should have done to avoid its own recent slide. In the end, it is nice to see a company emulate some of Apple’s best practices while recalling its own roots and putting more focus back on phones as a business tool.