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My Thoughts On RIM After BlackBerry World 2012

imageI started my Smartphone life before Smartphones were called Smartphones. I had a Palm VII which some of you may remember was a Palm OS based PDA that had a fold out antenna allowing it to download content and sort-of get online. Incidentally it ran on the same data-only network that the original BlackBerrys did, the Mobitex network.

I then proceeded to the RIM 850 (the DataTac version of the Mobitex-based RIM 950), then the 857, and then to the first real RIM Smartphone, the RIM 5810/5820. I’ve had BlackBerrys attached to my hip since 1999 and for a very long time, lived and breathed the BlackBerry mantra. It was the king of the space; in fact I think it led to the trend of actually using mobile data.

I saw the first misstep by RIM around the time when phones started to ship with cameras and media player functionality. Back then, RIM didn’t believe that the trend would last and could not understand why people wanted to listen to music on their phones or take pictures with them. I still stuck it out though and eventually the BlackBerry Pearl and Curve were released.

Post-iPhone Era

For a few years the Smartphone market remained stagnant. Nobody innovated, nobody tried to make great products, just more of the same. Then as we all know, the iPhone came along in 2007 and suddenly there was a new player in the space that had actually thought long and hard about how to make a truly great phone with game-changing features. I worried about typing on an on-screen keyboard after typing on my great BlackBerry keyboard for 8 years. Many people wondered the same thing, but it seems it was mostly unfounded because after all, it’s all about muscle memory when you type, not tactile feedback.

I, like many others, imagined what RIM was going to do to combat this new threat to the all-powerful BlackBerry. We were disappointed because RIM decided that the iPhone was just a fad. Then in 2008, Apple released the next iPhone along with their groundbreaking App Store. Suddenly apps were in one secure place, available for free or as low as 99 cents.

Google, who were building an Android phone as a BlackBerry-killer changed course and built a touch screen phone that pretty much copied the iPhone.

In 2008 RIM made an effort to address these pesky touch screen Smartphones and shoe-horned BlackBerry OS to run on a touch screen BlackBerry, but with a spring-loaded display. It was a flop. Later that same year, the Storm 2 was released, but was also a flop.

In 2009, RIM opened their own app store (BlackBerry App World). That same year, Palm completely started over and stopped using their old Palm OS operating system in favor of a radically new one called webOS. Palm, it seems, had seen that trying to shoe-horn their old Palm OS into new touch-screen phones would be a bad idea and opted for a completely new approach.

In 2010 RIM released the BlackBerry Torch that featured a proper touch screen (no spring loading), and a slide-out keyboard. Again RIM chose to not start from scratch, but to push their aging BlackBerry operating system past its limits and keep device specifications low. This path caused them to continue to lose developers, and show people that they weren’t really committed to taking on the now more powerful Android and iOS devices. This same year, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 that was a complete departure from their previous mobile OS, Windows Mobile. Like Palm, Microsoft had also learned that their aging Windows Mobile/CE operating system would not cut it in the new age of iOS and Android devices.

In 2011 RIM released their first tablet, the PlayBook. While the QNX operating system was impressive, the user interfaces was not innovative, in fact it was an almost direct copy of webOS. To me, it looked like RIM finally woke up at the end of 2010, a full 3 years after the iPhone and 2 years after Android, and decided to rush something to market. They had not worked out how to integrate this new OS into its existing BES/BIS infrastructure (which only allows one device per BES/BIS account) so they just left out Mail, Calendar, and Contacts apps, making the tablet essentially useless unless you also owned a BlackBerry Smartphone and paired the two via Bluetooth.

The story so far:

1999 – 2012 – BlackBerry OS
2007 – iPhone
2008 – Android Smartphones (1 year after iPhone)
2009 – Palm webOS (2 years after iPhone)
2010 – iPad (3 years after iPhone)
2010 – Microsoft Windows Phone 7 (3 years after iPhone)
2011 – QNX (4 years after iPhone)
2012 – BB10 (5 years after iPhone)

 

BlackBerry World 2012

Previously called Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES), BlackBerry World 2012 needed to be a conference where RIM showed the world that it FINALLY meant business in the Smartphone and Tablet space.

By now it has been five years since the iPhone and four years since the Android Smartphones, and RIM’s BlackBerry brand still runs on underpowered hardware and an ancient operating system. Google, Palm, Microsoft and even Nokia have already addressed the issue by throwing away their old operating systems and ideas on Smartphones and adopted a brand new technology. RIM is yet to make this move even though everyone has been telling them to do it for five years.

Over these last five years, whole market sectors have sprung up to address the needs of companies who are embracing iOS and Android and need mobile device management and enterprise app stores, both typically RIM’s domain and handled very well by the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Dual persona technology has also started taking off where a Smartphone or Tablet has dual personas, a work and personal persona. IT only controls the work persona, instead of the entire phone.

So did RIM show laser focus and a willingness to change their future?

The Good

RIM did execute some things very well at BBWorld 2012. While most will say they are years late with these two products, what I saw seemed promising.

In the last five years, Mobile Device Management (MDM), Dual Persona, and enterprise app stores, or Mobile App Management (MAM) companies have been springing up to address the enterprise need to manage non-BlackBerry devices.

RIM has decided to get into that space too out of necessity (to support PlayBook and BB10 devices) and to try and capture some of that profit currently being made by companies like MobileIron, AirWatch, Good Technologies, etc.

I thought that all sessions covering BlackBerry Fusion (RIM’s MDM solution) and BlackBerry Balance (RIM’s Dual Persona solution) were very informative, and provided solid product to look at and use. These then, are the two solutions that RIM has made a lot of progress with and don’t need to apply the spin-doctor medicine to. Its all real product and apparently working well.

BlackBerry Fusion (RIM’s MDM Solution)

The idea of BlackBerry Fusion is to address an issue created by RIM and their non-Java based BlackBerrys, and then an additional set of functionality to let them play in the MDM space and manage iOS and Android devices.

RIM’s Java based BlackBerrys have been tied to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in the enterprise, and the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) for consumers for many years now. For a few reasons, RIM could not get their new PlayBook, and their new BB10 based devices to work with the BES. In fact, these new devices don’t even send and receive their data through the RIM NOCs. Because RIM couldn’t get this to work, they had to create a new management package to deal with it. They created the BlackBerry Device Service.

The BlackBerry Device Service, which must run on its own hardware or virtual Windows machine, allows IT administrators to manage QNX and BB10 based BlackBerry devices. It has a separate management interface and cannot be part of an existing BES domain.

BlackBerry Fusion Overview
Figure 1: BlackBerry Fusion Overview (Note that the middle column also allows for managing BB10)

Last year RIM acquired an MDM company and this year have announced the BlackBerry Universal Device Service that allows for the management of iOS and Android devices. BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is a layer of functionality that allows for a single management interface (called BlackBerry Fusion Studio) to manage Java-based BlackBerrys on a BES, BlackBerry PlayBooks and BB10 devices, and iOS and Android devices.

BlackBerry Fusion Studio

Figure 2: BlackBerry Fusion Studio

There are a few issues with Fusion though. Firstly the BES CALs (user licenses) are not transferable to PlayBooks/BB10, iOS, or Android devices. This means that a new CAL must be purchased if an existing Java BlackBerry user also gets a PlayBook, BB10, iOS, or Android device. This won’t make people very happy.

Secondly, the BlackBerry Device Service and Universal Device Service must run on separate hardware or virtual Windows machines. This means extra outlay for hardware or to a lesser extent, virtual machine resources.

Competition to Fusion?

RIM is getting into the MDM game a bit late. It is already dominated by other companies like MobileIron and AirWatch (to name just two), and these companies offer the same functionality if not more. For example, MobileIron and AirWatch both have a single interface to manage BlackBerry, iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows Phone, and Symbian devices.

If you work for a company today and haven’t started embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) then you may not see the benefit to BlackBerry Mobile Fusion over other established MDM players. If you work for a company who has already embraced BYOD, you have likely already purchased and are using another MDM product in addition to managing BlackBerrys via the BES.

I’m not saying that Fusion is a bad product because I think it actually looks great, however we cannot ignore the facts that RIM will be new to a space already dominated by others. We also cannot ignore the pricing structure of non-transferable CALs. If RIM allowed transferable CALs, or allowed an existing BES CAL to include non-BlackBerry devices, then Fusion would be much more attractive than the others.

BlackBerry Balance (RIM’s Dual Persona Solution)

BlackBerry Balance is something that is already built into BlackBerry OS 6 MR2 and later, and the PlayBook OS 2.0 and later. It essentially allows for dual personas, a work persona, and the personal persona. Apps and data in the work persona are kept walled off from the apps and data in the personal persona. IT organizations can also elect to only wipe the work persona, leaving the personal apps and data intact.

BlackBerry Balance

Figure 3: BlackBerry Balance

Competition to Balance?

BlackBerry Balance is a very BlackBerry-specific product and will not run on iOS or Android (although I think I heard someone at RIM vaguely suggest that it will in the future). There are other companies like Good Technology and Enterproid (to name just two) who already provide this functionality on other devices.

Good Technology has been around almost as long as RIM and while they started out selling their own hardware (the Good G100), they quickly migrated to building a BlackBerry Balance-like client. Enterproid sells a product called Divide that not only provide Dual Persona, but actually simulates the device functionality so the user feels right at home.

RIM still has an advantage over Good and Enterproid though. From what I can see, BlackBerry Balance does allow some apps to share the personal and work persona areas. These include the Mail, Calendar, Contacts, MemoPad, and Media apps.

The BlackBerry App World app on the device also allows for a corporate app store where users can install corporate apps, as well as consumer apps from the public BlackBerry App World store.

On BlackBerry devices, RIM has a definite advantage in the Dual Persona space. They integrate a corporate app store and provide dual personas but still allow the core apps to see both personas. For companies that embrace BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry devices, they may not see the value in setting up two new distinct infrastructures to handle BlackBerrys with Fusion and Balance, and non-BlackBerrys with Good or Divide. If RIM had Balance for iOS and Android now, they may be the winning choice.

The Not So Good

I thought that RIM’s keynote, given by RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins, was not very invigorating. Yes they showed three features of the upcoming BB10 (glancing, keyboard, and camera time warping), but that’s all, just three features. You would think that RIM would follow their competitors in this space, Microsoft, Apple, Google, (and once Palm) who showed many features of their brand new operating system and phones, providing excitement on what is to come, and giving people a great sense of the new revamped product line.

RIM chose not to do this and instead we have to wait until October 2012 to see these new phones and learn the full extent of the new BB10 features. That’s a long time to wait, and also allows more Smartphones and tablets to be launched between now and then, not to mention the next iPhone and Verizon’s new DROID phones for 2012.

BB10 Features

As I said, RIM chose to show only three features of BB10. They looked great and well executed, and show that RIM is trying to be innovative. They were however, not groundbreaking advancements in Smartphone technology. Because they only showed three features, it gives the impression that BB10 is not a finished product. Even if you believe RIM’s angle on this which is they don’t want to reveal too much, we all know that their competition will not be able to build new features in six months so it leads us back to the idea that BB10 is nowhere near finished.

BB10 Camera Time Warping

The time warping camera app appears to be a unique take on camera software but isn’t original. RIM licensed the tech from a company called Scalado who created this technology last year. Here is it in action. You’ll notice that it looks almost exactly the same as what was shown at the BBWorld keynote.

The camera app takes a burst of five images instead of just one, and then allows you to go back in time on parts of the photo until you have the right moments in place. Really cool idea and it will be great to see it in the native camera app in BB10. While BB10 will include this licensed technology in its camera app, because it wasn’t created by RIM, other could license the same technology and either include it in a native Android, iOS, or Windows Phone camera app, or simply build a third party camera app that incorporates it. Because RIM showed it in action, I think app developers will probably be clamoring to license it on other platforms.

What I like about this technology is that RIM is at least trying to be innovative, even if it means using someone else’s technology to do it.

BB10 Keyboard

The on-screen keyboard in BB10 looks great too but not innovative. It has auto-word-suggest like iOS and Android, but it implements it in a cool way that allows you to flick the suggested word onto the screen. On Android the words are placed above the keyboard and you touch the one you want to use, while iOS only suggests one word and you hit space to use it.

RIM told us that the keyboard creates hotspots internally to learn where you touch each letter while typing and can learn your typing patterns. I want to say more about the keyboard but I reserve judgment on how good the keyboard actually is after I use an actual BB10 device.

BB10 Glance Feature

The Glance feature allows you to glance back to previous app screens or previous apps without loosing your place in the app itself. The idea is that you partially swipe back to see part of a previous screen, and then continue working on what you were doing. If you swipe forward you can see what is on the BB10’s desktop, which could include indications of new messages.

While the glancing feature is promising, it has been done to an extent in iOS before. You can already use four-fingers to swipe slowly between running apps to see what is on the other apps’ screens. It is not as granular as it appears to be in BB10 where each app can allow for glancing between different app screens, so we can say that RIM has taken an existing feature and made it better by integrating it into the OS of BB10 devices. As with the time warping camera, it shows that RIM is being innovative but not revolutionary.

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Figure 4: “Glancing” in iOS on the iPad

Showcasing Other Apps

RIM brought people on-stage to show things like a DJ app and the Citrix Receiver apps as if these are somehow wildly amazing and unique to BB10, while in reality you can get them both on other platforms already. The crowd loved seeing them and I kept wondering if any of them had actually used other Smartphones in their lives because how had they not seen these apps before?

Solutions Showcase

After the keynote was over it was time to visit the Solutions Showcase where the BlackBerry vendors show their latest products. I was shocked to see that the room was about one third the size that it has been in previous years. Instead of hundreds of vendors, I’m sure there weren’t even eighty. It seemed to show how far RIM has fallen in the last five years that even companies that supported them before, have dropped out.

General Sessions (aka Spin Doctors At Work)

After visiting the Solutions Showcase it was time to attend all of the BlackBerry World sessions. There were many sessions to attend but one that really made me angry was the one where Al Sacco chaired a panel of RIM people who offered to answer questions from Al’s readers. There were some terrific questions about RIM’s future and BB10, however the RIM people on stage became spin-doctors, giving non-specific and vague answers.

At one point, on a questions about whether RIM would deliver physical keyboard BB10 devices, Al challenged RIM and stated that it sounded like the first BB10 devices would be on-screen keyboards only, the RIM people got angry and uncomfortable.

This spin-doctor approach was for me, the overriding feeling I got from BlackBerry World when the topic of BB10 came up. So much unknown, so much spinning the truth, and providing vague non-specific answers. It was a turn-off for me. I wanted to hear how RIM was going to bring itself back and all I was hearing was static.

Conclusion

We know that RIM waited five years to address iOS and four years to address Android. Far too long. From BlackBerry World 2012 we can tell that RIM seems to have nailed down BlackBerry Fusion and BlackBerry Balance to make a play into the MDM space (which we can theoretically say they created by not staying competitive). Current BES admins may not like the idea of supporting RIM’s new devices using extra hardware and software and probably wish that RIM had made PlayBook and BB10 work on BES.

RIM’s play into the MDM and Dual Persona space has its risks however. These spaces are currently dominated by many other companies like Enterproid, Good Technology, MobileIron, AirWatch, to name just a few. RIM will need to prove that their solution is better than what is already out there and this will be difficult because RIM’s MDM solution for example, requires new hardware/virtual machines, plus new CALs, which doesn’t exactly make it attractive since that’s exactly what the other vendors also require.

BB10 however is up in the air. It won’t be here until Q3 2012. That is a long way away, and RIM didn’t show us many features of this new OS that has left us guessing. The RIM spin-doctors at BlackBerry World made it even more apparent that either BB10 is nowhere near finished and that they truly don’t know what features will be in the platform, or they are simply keeping it to themselves for a perceived competitive advantage (which I think is a big mistake).

In the past, app developers always found it very hard to write apps for BlackBerry and this is why there were never really any good ones, besides the ones that RIM wrote. After iOS and Android devices hit, and after both had app stores, app developers flocked to iOS and Android, and abandoned BlackBerry. BlackBerry users started abandoning BlackBerry to follow the rich apps and far better hardware and OS.

BB10 is supposed to address this with a totally new operating system, development tools, and a surge of apps. It is supposed to show the world that BB10 is better than iOS and Android and Windows Phone. How can we see this if we only saw three features?

How will this play out? Will developers flock back to BlackBerry for BB10? I don’t think they will unless the users flock back. The users will flock back only if the BB10 hardware and OS is outstanding and there are tons of apps. BlackBerry World failed to show enough about BB10 to get people excited. To me this means that consumers will probably wait until BB10 is released, and then continue to wait until after they see what it offers, and if it offers great apps. This then means that BB10 adoption may only start happening in Q1 2013.

We have to also keep in mind that between now and the release of BB10, we will see the iPhone 5, iOS6, Android 5, and likely a new version of Windows Phone 7 OS. We know that we will also see a slew of new Android devices. Those are a lot of developments in the mobile space for BB10 to compete with and all are unknowns.

Instead of BlackBerry World 2012 showing us the path forward, it simply left us with mixed messages, more questions, and a long time to wait to get the answer for them.

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5 Responses to My Thoughts On RIM After BlackBerry World 2012

  1. Tony May 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Blackberry was king of the corporate hill for so long, I feel like they were either afraid to innovate or thought a consumer product like the iPhone could pose any threat at all the it’s monopoly in the corporate mobile space.

    Wow… How wrong they were.

    • Steve Krause May 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

      For me, one word explains the fall of BlackBerry…… ActiveSync.

      When Microsoft licensed out ActiveSync for Exchange, it opened up the floodgates for the iPhone and Android mobile devices to pull email, calendar and contacts for pretty much all large corporations out there.

      Although originally, ActiveSync had many gaps around security which BlackBerry has had for years — with Exchange 2010 most of those gaps have been closed and the iPhone and Android implementation of the ActiveSync API have done a nice job implementing most of the features.

      Because of this, running BlackBerry on a corporate network adds little value over ActiveSync considering the added cost and complexity required to run the BES server on top of your exchange environment.

      • Mike June 23, 2012 at 12:52 am #

        So what is the solution? Blackberry should innovate or go the easy path and roll Android?

        • Steve Krause June 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

          Well that’s the billion dollar question or specifically the 5.3 Billion dollar question – http://i.minus.com/i4lkATZhwjPJp.jpg

          RIM has a lot of really smart people and if I were the CEO I guess a few things I would try is:

          1 – Marketing — When’s the last time you saw a RIM commercial? Apple didn’t get where it’s at purely by word-of-mouth.

          2 – By some talent — Sure, the guys at RIM are all pretty smart but the first thing I would do is poach some top Executive, engineering and design talent from the competition.

          3 – Get Hip — Sure, the corporate market is lucrative but it’s the new generation that is buying up all the iOS and Droid devices and one day they will be the CEO’s and CTO’s. Get em hooked young by getting the devices into their hands.

          4 – Go Activesync — Get rid of the need to have a separate BES server and just bite bullet and go ActiveSync. This will make a lot of IT Admins AND IT Management very happy. The last thing RIM should be doing is making BES a more expensive platform to own and operate in the corporate sense. Sure, this will take a hit and change the corporate model but in the end, it will keep corporate customers and improve the loyalty of them as well.

          5 – I really don’t think RIM is going to survive unless they get involved in a thriving Developer community. The last thing RIM wants I think is to have Developers ignore them. DEV’s are already writing Apps for iPhone and Android AND Windows mobile. Do you really think they are going to goto yet another platform?

          Apple learned this lesson years ago in the 80’s. — You can have the better hardware but if there are no apps to run on that hardware, you will lose. IBM / Microsoft won the battle in the 80’s and 90’s against Apple and almost put them in bankruptcy (They would have died if Microsoft didn’t give them 300 million and office for mac) because they just didn’t have the software. I think RIM is in the same spot now.

          So they either need to evolve or die…. Does that mean porting the Blackberry over to Android like Nokia did? I don’t know. That’s probably an option. I actually have the answer but RIM won’t get it out of me for free. Give me the CEO or C-Something spot and I’ll give the final steps to world-wide domination. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. ShockerSH May 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Great write-up Craig. I’ve been in the IT biz for many years and I used to have a Blackberry until we booted it for personal devices. That’s what we’re doing now.

    I think the problem with Blackberry now is they were too late to launch the App store and now that both Android and Apple and Microsoft all have online stores, the market is just too crowded to make room for a blackberry market or store… in my opinion anyway.

    I think the only chance Blackberry has at this point is to embrace a partner like Nokia did and roll forward with either Microsoft or Android — in order to gain access to the online market. Personally, I think they should embrace the Android OS but that’s just me. Perhaps then I would think about it. For now, I have no need to go Blackberry anymore. I feel like I’d be using my dads phone.

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