BlackBerry died a long time ago
BlackBerry shot itself in the foot years ago when it lost its identity, forgot about what made it great, and tried to chase some of the innovators in the industry (Apple). Trying to shift market perception from the BlackBerry being a business device to a consumer device ultimately cost the company its life. By trying to be a consumer device first, it lost its competitive advantage and its key differentiators, and ultimately lost its foothold as the leading business-class mobile operating system of choice. It also missed out on the massive mobile device management opportunity that it could have dominated, but instead chose to enable third-party device support years after it could have opened the doors.
In an article I wrote back in 2011 (“BlackBerry: The beginning of the end?”), the writing was on the wall in terms of what was in store for BlackBerry. The market was shifting, social media was spreading like wildfire, Apple was releasing iMessage, and major social media application developers decided to exclude the BlackBerry platform from their development road maps. BlackBerry sat on one of the biggest key differentiators on the market—BBM (BlackBerry Messenger)—and only recently decided to open it up to other platforms, three-plus years too late. Kik, Viber, Whatsapp, iMessage, you name it—they all erode the business case to get consumers to use BlackBerry devices that BBM once had.
BlackBerry chose to go after the consumer market that was embracing iOS and Android rapidly by not only changing its software, but altering its hardware to accommodate users. In a way, it abandoned its core business, its loyal fans who were brand advocates willing to defend and recommend the platform. It lost its way, it failed to see the shift in the market, and how to leverage its network, loyal user base, and intellectual property to strategically propagate into the consumer market.
As BlackBerry tried to shift into a consumer device, it started to lose the things that made it great. BlackBerry devices could no longer boast impressive battery life, something that was a major difference compared to the competitors. This year they lost the BlackBerry button as well as call-handling buttons. Again, something that set them apart, something that was different, something minor that a lot of people enjoyed. Why be like everyone else? Why try and simply copy what’s already out there, forgetting about what made you successful in the first place?
From co-CEOs, to failed hardware and software launches, to missed market opportunities, we now see a once-great Canadian tech giant slash half its workforce, while Apple holds engineering career fairs 10 miles from its head office. What if BlackBerry stayed true to its core business and continued to focus on its business customers? So many what-ifs for what once was such a great Canadian technology company.