The Cloud

BlackBerry Take 2

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cellular | Tags: , | Comments Off

First published on MyBroadband | 13 August, 2010

Last week I wrote a column about the highs and lows that BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion (RIM) is going through at the moment and it would appear that some of the BlackBerry fanboys in the forums took offence to my take on the state of the smartphone market.

I was going to leave it alone, but then I was watching the Twitter feed from the Tech4Africa conference, where Justin Spratt, from Internet Solutions, was quoted as saying that by the end of next year BlackBerry will be in steep decline. I apologise to Justin if that is not exactly what he said, but it was tweeted by enough people that it should be close enough.

His argument seems to be that RIM are focussed on keeping the carriers happy and going forward it is much more important to keep the customers happy.

I don’t disagree with him, but I think that the fundamental flaw in the BlackBerry business model revolves around two issues.

The first of these, and the one that most people in the forums seemed to bring up, is the way that BlackBerry services are packaged. You pay a fixed fee for all the mail and internet access you can use on a monthly basis. For South Africans, who are used to paying through the nose for web access, this is a brilliant offer. No massive data bills and simple setup makes for a compelling offering. However, assuming that data costs are going to remain high indefinitely is a dangerous mistake to make. There will come a point when the lure of prettier and better handsets will overcome the attraction of fixed cost internet and email.

With Cell C and Telkom set to make waves in the mobile field it is likely that the one area that they might target is giving smartphone users a better deal in terms of voice and data bundles than they currently get.

The second issue that I have with BlackBerry is a direct consequence of the first. Because all communications to and from a BlackBerry user has to pass through a BlackBerry server, either controlled by RIM itself or by a company. For most consumers (not corporates) this means that there is not only a single point of failure for their email and internet access, but also a really attractive target for government snoops to use to intercept conversations.

Corporate types with their own servers are better off, but not everyone can afford to run their own server. So the majority of people will be feeding their information through a server that government spooks can get access to, if the government of the country you are in demands that RIM hands over the keys to the house.

Based on recent events, it would appear that RIM is not willing to lose markets in order to protect its users. If that is not worrisome then I am not sure what is. And I am not even a privacy fanatic.


Knives out for BlackBerry

Posted: August 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cellular | Tags: , | Comments Off

First published on MyBroadband | 05 August, 2010

This week looks like a Charles Dickens novel for BlackBerry. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Just as RIM launched their big reveal of the BlackBerry Torch and the new BlackBerry 6 operating system, governments in the Middle East such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are threatening to cut all local BlackBerry users off because they (the government, that is) can’t snoop on the encrypted traffic between BlackBerry users.

The problem is that if RIM were facing this kind of issue in more open societies it would probably be able to challenge this through the courts, but given the autocratic nature of the countries in question it seems that it has two choices, comply or shut up shop.

Even more worrying is that it appears that more and more countries have suddenly woken up to how BlackBerry moves information around the world and suddenly they are jumping up and down and shouting, “me too, me too”.

How the company will deal with half the world’s governments suddenly demanding that they change their business practises and let governments snoop (at will) on people’s private conversations is anyone’s guess.

It’s not like RIM needs any more challenges at the moment. For the first time since the start of the crackberry addiction, more Android phones were sold in the US than BlackBerrys. Even with the bad press that Apple is getting around the iPhone4 antenna issue, the damn things are still flying off the shelves. And then there is Windows Phone 7 that is going to hit the stores later this year. BlackBerry needs to come to the party and it is hoping that the combination of the Torch and the new operating system will be enough to keep it in the game.

For the most part I think that if staying in the game is its intention then it has done enough. From looking at reports from the launch they have fixed a lot of the issues with the OS that irked me (like getting a real web browser).

That combined with a decent range of handsets, from the Torch to the Curve and the Pearl, mean that corporates and keyboard junkies will keep on buying handsets just because that is what they have always had or because that is what their corporate IT department says they need to have to see their mail on the go.

BlackBerry will, however, keep losing market share, simply because most of the new entrants into the market are choosing to go with the more attractive offerings from the likes of Samsung, Apple and HTC.

BlackBerry has, over the course of the last two years, moved from being the dominant force in the smartphone market, to  one that is constantly having to play catch up with companies that have a much better understanding of what the majority of users want and which are able to deliver it faster.

The jury is out on whether RIM is following the same path that Palm trod in the PDA market, but I, for one, am not planning to buy a Torch any time soon.