Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

How BlackBerry Blew It

This report from the Globe and Mail is punctuated by the occasional historical error (you’ll see what I mean), but the depth of its investigation is profound:

Publicly, Mr. Lazaridis and Mr. Balsillie belittled the iPhone and its shortcomings, including its short battery life, weaker security and initial lack of e-mail [sic]. That earned them a reputation for being cocky and, eventually, out of touch. “That’s marketing,” Mr. Lazaridis explained. “You position your strengths against their weaknesses.”

Internally, he had a very different message. “If that thing catches on, we’re competing with a Mac, not a Nokia,” he recalled telling his staff.

There was also talk of licensing the BlackBerry Messaging service to carriers and pitching it as the second generation of SMS. This plan was canned when Thorsten Heins took over the CEO reins, as the company felt like it would detract from sales of BlackBerry devices.

All of this speaks to a corporate culture of scrambling panic lacking in any understanding of the situation they faced after the launch of the iPhone, and the later introduction of the Android platform. People were demonstrably less interested in retaining their BBM PIN than in the app stores of iOS and Android. Customers were simply bypassing BlackBerry; the BBM service did not provide a great enough draw, and neither has BlackBerry 10. In the BlackBerry holdouts of corporate Canada, I’ve seen one Z10 in the wild, and a handful of Q10s. Most others have a recent iPhone, and a few have an Android product of some type or another.

BlackBerry appears to be relenting. Last weekend, they began to launch a BBM app for iOS and Android, only to pull it later that day:

There were too many simultaneous users, the company says; with over 1.1 million active clients in the first eight hours, the messaging service just wasn’t ready to handle the load.

Apparently, they’re still planning to roll out the app to those platforms, but no timeframe has been announced. But this launch comes very late: as fewer BlackBerry phones are sold every year, more people have switched to other platforms and have migrated their contact lists over to competing proprietary messaging services like iMessage, Kik, and WhatsApp. They’re trying to claw back users with a product which does nothing more than those offerings. What would compel users to switch?