As I write, two iPhone/Apple problems are going viral. The first is now being called Bendgate and Bendghazi. The second doesn’t have a cute name yet; it relates to the latest iOS 8 update, which apparently has broken enough phones that it had to be pulled. This update had been rushed out to fix a group of problems with the initial 8.0 update, but created a different set of more annoying problems. If Apple were an IT company, we’d likely be chatting about how it was going out of business with this foolishness.
Conversely, BlackBerry launched its Passport phone this week with a steel frame, better antenna placement (no antenna gate), better battery life, better security, and a solid feature set focused on business. If I were to say that in a vacuum, in other words to someone who didn’t know Apple was dominant, they’d likely assume that BlackBerry was the market leader. That makes this a very strange market at the moment. Let’s contrast the two vendors’ approaches to the market with a focus on business this week. We are IT Business Edge, after all.
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Apple’s focus is on design, ease of use, and having the largest margin the market will bear. Its phones are like the popular person in school that you wanted to marry, then ran into at the reunion only to find they have a record number of marriages under their belt and haven’t aged well.
When you combine the primary goals of being attractive and inexpensive to build, you’ll make some ugly tradeoffs. That is what Apple did with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. To keep costs down and still have an attractive, light, skinny phone, it had to go all-aluminum, but aluminum isn’t very rigid. The phone, when placed in a back pocket in tight pants, is going to come out looking like the mirror image of your butt. The bigger the phone, the better the image, which is why mostly iPhone 6 Plus folks are complaining at the moment.
And focusing on getting the product out the door on time over getting the product right is what we saw with the latest iOS update. Apple made the date, but the offering wasn’t ready, creating a nasty set of problems for users of Apple products.
The BlackBerry Passport is the first product that really showcases BlackBerry’s new business-first strategy. If people want a phone like an iPhone, BlackBerry will wrap that phone with its secure messaging and management products. If they are professionals and want a phone designed for them, BlackBerry will build a phone that meets their unique needs; the software will be fully tested and the phone will be robust. On this last point, because the phone uses Android apps from the Amazon store, many of which haven’t been fully vetted for the BlackBerry platform, folks are reporting some minor problems, but this is far from the catastrophe Apple experienced at the same time.
The phone format is square, like a monitor, and now panoramic, like a movie screen. The frame is stainless steel, focused on strength, not aluminum, which is focused on weight and low cost. The antenna is optimally positioned and the phone is designed around that requirement; it’s not an afterthought that was forced in after the phone’s case was created. It has a physical keyboard with sensors (so you can swipe on it without blocking or smudging your screen) and a 25-hour battery because folks who work want this focus and are willing to give up the weight savings to get it. It is designed to be secure, which makes it a little harder to get into but far safer in use.
It takes time to become proficient with its unique user optimizations, like the dual-mode keyboard that has sensors so you can swipe on it and gain access to special efficiency features. But that also makes it less valuable to steal because it can be easily bricked by the user who owns the phone (or the IT department).
Most users don’t want to spend the time learning new ways of doing what they already do. But professionals will spend the time because they know their time is important and they are willing to spend time learning a specialized tool to get a competitive advantage and maybe give up some of the consumer stuff in exchange.
The BlackBerry is the person you met in school that you should have married because, while they weren’t the most attractive or popular, they were attractive enough and they always had your back.
Wrapping Up: Matching the Tool to the Professional
What BlackBerry is trying to do is create tools that professionals will uniquely want. The Passport is an example of that effort. It doesn’t even try to be an iPhone. Apple will always be better at building those and BlackBerry really isn’t a consumer-focused vendor. The contrast between the Passport and iPhone, particularly with the problems being reported this week, showcases Apple’s focus, and it isn’t on getting work done. The Passport showcases that this is BlackBerry’s focus.
In the end, both products showcase two things: some of the dangers of using a consumer product for business and that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all market. It never really was, despite Apple’s hope that it could convince us otherwise.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+