It’s only been available in Canada since Tuesday — and already, the tech world can’t decide if the new Blackberry smartphone is doomed or will spark biggest comeback in business history.
We asked our tech guy Tod Maffin to break it down for us.
If the technology world ever had a Hail Mary pass, this was it.
Research in Motion is betting everything on this new phone. Everything — including their name itself, changing it from Research in Motion to just Blackberry. For years, Blackberry was pretty much the global standard for accessing your email when you were out of the office. Some people felt so addicted to the little boxes, they started calling them Crackberries. And when times were good, Blackberry controlled about 44 per cent of the smartphone market in the U.S. But, despite the folklore, it never was easy sailing for the company.
In 2000, a firm named NTP sued Research in Motion, saying the Blackberry had infringed on its wireless email patents. A judge agreed. And ordered RIM to stop using the technology. Which would have shut down operations in the U.S. Ouch. What ended up saving the company was its very ubiquity. The U.S. government intervened saying shutting down Blackberry could harm the government, as too many federal employees relied on it. Six years later, RIM agreed to pay more than $600 million dollars to settle the case. And, for a while, it looked like Blackberry could recover.
And then... just months later, along came another company named after a fruit.
It was early 2007. And Steve Jobs had just bet the farm on a new gadget aimed squarely at the smartphone market. In no time, Apple’s iPhone became the tech darling, and started steadily eroding Blackberry’s market share.
But that erosion wasn’t entirely Apple’s fault. During this critical period, Research in Motion itself seemed directionless, with TWO CEOs sharing the same job, and rushing out flawed products, like a tablet that couldn’t independently check email. In time, even the most loyal Blackberry fans held their noses and switched to iPhone or a competing Android device. And Blackberry ended up with just one per cent of the American smartphone market.
I used to own a Blackberry, but since I switched to the iPhone, I’ve bought iPhone apps, signed up for iCloud — spent real money on Apple's platform. Like a lot of people, I’m not so certain I want to abandon all that money I’ve spent setting my mobile life to start fresh again on another platform. Even if the Blackberry is nice. And it is. It’s got slick new software — with some nice tricks up its sleeve, like being able to gather all your emails, text messages, and social media alerts in one place. Blackberry calls it The Hub.
Little wonder Canada’s cell phone companies are positively giddy about the new phones. Because what those companies are beginning to understand is that they’re selling a culture, more than just a gadget. These devices are deeply embedded in our day-to-day lives. That’s partly why Telus is offering one-on-one training sessions on the new phones. Based not around the technology, but around the user.
"I don’t teach phones, I teach people," said Telus product manager Christian Newman "We’re customizing that session for you. We talk to you. We ask questions.... It’s not like ‘Here’s the ten things we’re going to touch and have a nice day,’ it’s ‘Hey, what apps are you interested in? Are you familiar with email?”
And that more friendly approach — the human touch — could make a big difference in sales.
Industry watcher Steve Dotto says he wrote Blackberry off even as recently as eight months ago. But now, Dotto thinks one of Blackberry’s biggest assets could be, well, warm fuzzies. “We have an emotional attachment to Blackberry because it was the first phone most of us had in our hands that gave us true mobility and communications.... I think a lot of people want to see Blackberry succeed, not just for Canadian and economic reasons, but because we’ve got a soft spot for the company,” said Dotto.
Soft spot or not, one thing IS clear — the smartphone market is now a multi-billion dollar gamble. And Blackberry will take all the help it can get.
For CBC Radio, I’m Tod Maffin.
HOST EXTRO: Most carriers are selling the Blackberry for about $150 dollars, as long as you sign up for a three-year plan. You can get it on just a two-year plan with Fido, but it’ll cost $350 dollars. The price without a monthly contract is about $650 bucks.