Even Simon and Garfunkel’s bridge over troubled water can’t save RIM from what seems to be a sea of bad times. Since Android took off and the iGadgets reached absurd levels of hysteria, RIM has proven consistently as exciting as Andy Murray.
Then came the announcement that BlackBerry 10 - what could be RIM’s last real shot at getting it right - is coming in 2013. This is late to the game at best. CEO Thorten Heins put it down to what he calls “noise” in the market. Better phones with better experiences, more like.
There are a few crucial things RIM is missing right now which could fix its fate. They may not be simple at a company level but there are a few obvious changes that the consumers is looking for. Get it right and who knows, people might start buying Playbooks all over again. Well, perhaps that’s a little optimistic.
Change BBM’s public image
Right now BBM’s image has gone sour . It's iMessenger connected with the London Riots, hooded youths and all round bad-dooers, it is no way for sharply dressed businessmen or good-hearted folk to communicate.
In fact BBM is at the root of a lot of BlackBerry’s problems. It represents a shift in the entire company’s approach to things. Once a business-centric brand, BlackBerry lost out on a lot of sales when Android and, more specifically, the iPhone began offering higher levels of security - something which RIM had previously and successfully used to differentiate its products.
Instead the company latched on to BBM and used it as a flagship feature to push the BlackBerry as a consumer product, but rather than expand the phone's appeal, it seems to have just shifted it into a different demographic: a younger one, with less money to spend and more tempted by the glitzy world of apps.
How to fix then? One option is a name change and even a new system. BBM needs to be much more open, a bit like Twitter, so it doesn’t offer the kind of privacy that illegality demands. This may seem backwards, we know, but it’s a sad truth.
Finally, change the look and feel of it. BBM is a tired app which requires you to input complex numbers to add friends. It feels truly absurd asking someone for their BlackBerry ID. It needs to be a simple tag, nothing else. BBM also needs to be opened up beyond the BlackBerry, everyone needs to be able to use it. This would take some of the edge off the brand for the iPhone and Android crowd, perhaps restoring a bit of faith in them in the meantime.
Throw BlackBerry’s design strategy out the window
The BlackBerry looks pretty boring now. Sure, you can spot one from a mile off, but nothing has really come along that has been worth talking about. Whatever happens next, BlackBerry needs to throw everything out the window.
No more Curve or Bold, it needs to be stand out. The product has to be a talking point like the Lumia 800 was; something which gets people feeling excited about BlackBerry again, but for all the right reasons.
First of all, why does everything have to be black or white? It might be stylish in theory, but shiny gloss plastic and silver bars between keys, that just isn’t up to scratch anymore. We want One X levels of design. Take the excitement over the look of the iPhone 4 and double it.
However this product materialises, it has to be the device that BlackBerry 10 launches on. There is already talk of a Qwerty phone to follow soon after BB’s first 10 device, so that needs to reinvent the idea of a keyboard as well.
Windows Phone did it. It obliterated a tired OS and transformed it into one of the most iconic-looking pieces of technology currently on sale. It might not be selling hugely, right now, but it’s certainly making waves.
Take a genuine look at Android
There’s nothing wrong with Google’s smartphone OS. As it so happens, Google just announced that it’s activating an average of 1 million devices per day. That’s a lot of phones. In fact, to put it in perspective, RIM shipped just 150,000 PlayBooks in the last quarter.
BlackBerry just doesn’t have the infrastructure to compete with everyone else. First up, it has one of the most underdeveloped and clunky app experiences on mobile, with very little choice of downloads compared to what Apple and Google are offering.
Stick Google Play on a BlackBerry device and you instantly have a vast choice of apps to download. Apps are what make a smartphone. Without them, you have, well, a BlackBerry.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat in the operating system field or even just allowing the use of software from Google Play if that’s all it takes. RIM has tried repeatedly and failed, so has Nokia, but the latter has turned its chances around by taking on Microsoft. Why not do the same thing? An Android powered BlackBerry is something we would all definitely like to play with.
Stop releasing so many phones
Everyone loves a bit of diversity. Too much, though, and no one knows what to look for and where. Intel realised this with its processor family, given it the i3, i5 and i7 names so that consumers knew exactly which was quickest and which was the slowest. Apple sells the iPhone and iPad, admittedly in different storage sizes, but its still two products.
Keeping on top of the BlackBerry library isn’t easy. Why have different variants of Bold and Curve? One expensive, one mid range and one premium smartphone, that gives customers enough choice while still meaning you can dictate slightly what they get. It also ensures that your top of the line product becomes an aspirational device, something people lust after.
Make BlackBerry 10 for everyone (well nearly)
Microsoft’s decision to make Windows Phone 8 only available on new smartphones was unusual. It might work wonders for the update chaos Android creates and could force consumers to upgrade phones early. Then again it could, just like Ice Cream Sandwich, lead to a lack of rapid adoption. Either way getting it right when releasing a new OS isn't easy.
Right now BlackBerry is suffering on the apps front and the OS it has available has repeatedly proven itself as stale and clunky. They need to dispel this OS image as quick as possible by getting BlackBerry 10 out to as many phones as possible but in the right way. This means avoiding a laggy experience by putting it on underpowered older phones while still getting it out to newer handsets to increase BlackBerry 10's market presence.
Get the rollout right and BlackBerry could be in with a genuine chance of turning its fate around. The combination of new exciting hardware and a smooth and stable operating system could see previous iPhone and Android converts return to their beloved BlackBerrys as well as some new adopters on top. There's still fight in RIM yet, it just needs to be over in the third rather than go all the way to the points.