Witness the death of Blackberry

I don’t know if Blackberry 10 (the Z10 phone with the BB10 operating system) is going to be any good. I hope it is, for the sake of all my friends and clients who’s IT departments force them to use Blackberry phones. The problem is, I just don’t think the company has a future.

In this digital age, it seems that hardly a month goes by without a report of another iconic brand that has succumbed to the dreadful march of disruptive technologies. HMV, Borders, Kodak, Jessops, Blockbuster (and Movie Gallery, America’s #2 in this space), Loehmann’s, American Media (publisher of National Enquirer and Star magazines), Oddbins, Comet and many more have declared bankruptcy in the past few years.

We would not be surprised to see Blackberry (or RIM) go the same route, or, more likely, be bought out at a bargain basement price by Microsoft, Google or Nokia.

There are increasing signs of decline at Blackberry, many on display in the past week or so as the Blackberry 10 was launched. Besides the obvious business indicators – very few of which are heading in the right direction – here are a few more serious indicators that all is not well in the internal culture of Blackberry/RIM (follow the links for more details on each story):

  • Hiring Alicia Keys as a “creative director” – this is not unprecedented as celebrities have been used successfully as brand ambassadors, but why Alicia? Especially since she is a well known Apple user.
  • Then, not ensuring she actually uses a Blackberry
  • Blackberry 10 promises to create an experience more like the intuitive interfaces of Apple, Samsung and all the others. It’s very late to be joining that party. But worse is that only now can Blackberry really connect with the world of apps in a significant way, but the app manufacturers have invested elsewhere and won’t rush to support the BB app store. BB has to connect into another app platform, or risk being left out completely. The latter is most likely. This is not just the death of a phone – it is the death of a platform. (Remember the Palm, anyone?)
  • Not appealing to your die-hard fans first. The Z10 has been released first, with no physical keyboard (the key distinguishing feature of BBs). The Q10 will have this, but only be released in the middle of the year. The core fan base of Blackberry might not wait for that.
  • Finally, on the day before the release of the phone, RIM’s CEO, Stephen Bates, made a complete and utter hash of a BBC radio interview, repeatedly sounding like he was a well trained PR mouthpiece. Listen to the cringe worthy 3 minute interview here.
  • During further interviews that week, Bates repeatedly asserted that Apple was losing ground and pointed to the story of Apple’s 30% drop in share price in 2013. Although it might just be more PR spin, it is a sign of looking at the wrong indicators. Wall Street is becoming more and more divorced from reality, and leaders who focus too much of their own share prices (and worse on the share price of competitors) risk not seeing reality. As it happens, Apple’s share prices fell 30% on very dubious forecasts by analysts, and not on reality, which is that Apple is still the 1st, 3rd AND 4th best selling phones in the USA and the best selling tablets by far. Bates should definitely learn from Apple rather than hope they will decline on their own.
  • Early reviews of the phone are complimentary, but predictably conclude: “If you’re going to learn a new OS, you might as well learn Android or Apple’s iOS, rather than BB10”, OR “it’s not bad, but there’s no compelling reason to switch to it.” There are, however, many compelling reasons to switch away.

This is not your standard analysts view, although I think we’re in line with most of their advice (sell!). Sometimes you can see the signs of decline all too clearly. Blackberry is dying.

What signs would you look for in your company to know if you’re going to suffer the same fate sometime soon.

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