Typing RIM into Google News makes for nasty reading. If you are unaware of the current situation for the Canadian phone maker, here are some choice headlines:
- BlackBerry delay darkens RIM’s future
- RIM Nose Dives After Another Disaster Of An Earnings Report
- Apple’s App Store alone worth more than RIM
- RIM’s Absurd Plan To Fix Itself: Do Better Advertising In 2012
- RIM activist renews call for leadership change
And that’s just a snapshot.
If I was Mike Lazaridis or Jim Balsillie, I would be wondering two things, one where did it all go wrong and what can be done about it. The world isn’t interested in the first question and deeply concerned about RIMs’ plan to answer the second.
The rapid change in technology over the last five years has been nothing short of astounding, we have seen established brands such as Blackberry and Nokia go from market dominance to struggling underdogs. We’ve seen the dominance of Apple, the beauty of the multitouch capacitive screen and the lightning in a bottle that is the well developed ecosystem. As exciting as they have been, I don’t think its going to hold a candle to 2012.
I say this for a number of reasons:
- It has taken time for smartphones to be ready for consumers
- It has taken time for consumers to be ready for smartphones
- Platform App stores are now the defacto content delivery mechnisim
- Developers are now empowered with tools and easy (ish) languages and more importantly are finally getting the respect and recognition they deserve.
We now have an educated consumer base, who want to purchase apps and services, demand more from their phone and expect it to be delivered faster. We have a mature ecosystems where you can buy movies, tv shows, games, utilities and more all under one well designed roof. But more importantly all companies understand that they need to have a mobile strategy and continue to invest in it.
Now it would be foolish to not to mention the most dominant force in mobile today, Apple. Apples’ success has been nothing short of phoenix like, from being 90 days from bankrupcy in 1996, to being one of the worlds richest companies in 2011. Its products are beautifuly engineered and executed, popular and aspirational. The App Store is the number one player in the game and to some the only player. Its users buy more and spend longer using their apps. Apple will not be dislodged from its position in 2012 or 2013 for that matter.
However to modify a phrase used by Steve Jobs: For other companies to win, Apple doesn’t have to lose.
My thoughts on current versions of android arent all that positive, versions up to 2.3 (gingerbread) feel rough around the edges, a powerful but somewhat blunt tool when it comes to the user experience. However, Google understands that it can’t succeed if it delivers a sub par user experience and with its next release Ice Cream Sandwich it is improving all aspects of the User interface. Android is already well on its way to becoming the most popular (by units sold) platform, but with ICS it will finally have a response to the long standing criticisms. Combine this with the number of hardware partners and a well established eco system it becomes more than just a cheap alternative to iOS.
Rim has had a tough couple of years, all of which are its own fault for ignoring the market. It has rushed to catch up but faltered at each step, its tablet dreams fell short of market expectations and users have been leaving in droves. All is not lost as they have begun a platform transition away from current operating systems and are focussed on trying to improve all aspects of pretty much everything they do. People also forget the huge presence in emerging markets like Latin America, how RIM seeks to bolster its marketshare will be crucial. They have started delivering handsets that people want and like, have set out a clearer roadmap and begun new developer initiatives to keep their Eco system alive. 2012 is make or break for Blackberry, hopefully that will lead to some interesting developments
Now this is the dark horse, released last year to a smattering of applause was Microsofts scorched earth policy to its previous mobile platforms. It has started from scratch and developed an interesting take on the user interface, forced consistency from its hardware partners and strived to court developers to create apps and services. Most importantly it has convinced Nokia to sideline its Symbian and Meego operating systems and concentrate on developing Windows Phone handsets. In short Nokia is fundamental to the success of Windows phone, it brings brand value, high quality production capabilities and manufacturing and delivery infrastructure like no other.
Nokia is committing a huge spend to marketing of its new Windows devices (three times larger than any other Nokia marketing budget), which is getting the platform visible in new ways. Microsoft has a small but growing App store, and with Nokia seeding 25, 000 developer devices to developers worldwide in 2012 it is only going to increase in size. A major side effect of Nokia working with Microsoft is that it is forcing the hand of other Windows phone licensees to up their game to compete. From marketing to device design there is now a premium level Windows phone handset which opens up new options for manufacturers.
In summary we have multiple ecosystems that have matured, devices that put customers first, platforms that are despearte to win and customers who understand the product.
2012 has the makings of the perfect storm and I cannot wait to see what happens.