The Globe & Mail had a great profile of the rise and fall of BlackBerry last week that’s worth reading when you have some time – it’s a fairly long piece. It got me thinking, BlackBerry is going to make a great business school case study some day. Anyway, I’ve always been of the opinion that BlackBerry didn’t fail because of hardware. As a very loyal user for eight years, I've always believed that they failed because they were way, way too late to the app game. I remember buying a new BlackBerry long after they launched the app store and finding that the app store didn’t come installed. I had to go download the App Store app so I could start downloading apps. And when I downloaded it I found that it was super hard to use. It’s clear that apps weren't a priority for BlackBerry.
When Apple released its App Store it was the core part of the phone. It was easy to use and the app options were nearly unlimited. The advent of apps literally made the iPhone 100x better. That's not an exaggeration. And for some reason BlackBerry missed this opportunity and got into the app game way too late. As a result they literally had no chance of competing against the iPhone or the Android.
I’ve always wondered why they missed this and the Globe & Mail article offers some insight. Check out this excerpt:
Trying to satisfy its two sets of customers – consumers and corporate users – could leave the company satisfying neither. When RIM executives showed off plans to add camera, game and music applications to its products to several hundred Fortune 500 chief information officers at a company event in Orlando in 2010, they weren’t prepared for the backlash that followed. Large corporate customers didn’t want personal applications on corporate phones, said a former RIM executive who attended the session.
Surely BlackBerry had lots of problems but imagine operating in a super competitive business and having one group of customers holding you back from creating the best product you can for another group of customers?
Blackberry could’ve tried to serve both sets of customers but intrinsically and culturally their corporate customers put them at a massive disadvantage when it came to innovation and serving the consumer.
What a paradox: it seems that what once made BlackBerry so successful – large corporate contracts – may be the thing that eventually caused their demise.