Архив метки: QNX

The Future Of RIM: “BlackBerry Isn’t For Everyone”

rim-not4every1

Today is BlackBerry Jam, RIM’s developer conference or WWDC equivalent. It’s RIM’s moment to redefine, rejuvenate, and re-establish itself in the world. Whether or not the company can pull it off, however, is an entirely different matter.

BlackBerry 10, RIM’s brand new platform, has been delayed, run into naming issues, and seen the transfer of power go from the company’s co-founders, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, to long-time employee Thorsten Heins. The conference will prove whether or not RIM is now adaptable — something for which the company has been publicly flogged for the past year.

We took a trip up to Waterloo to speak with some of the employees ahead of the event, namely Vivek Bhardwaj, Head of Software Portfolio EMEA for RIM, and as I walked away I felt less sure of who RIM is and what the company is about than I ever have before.

See, one of the first things we heard walking in the door was that RIM has changed with Heins at the top. When I mentioned the past year and described the company as “lacking flexibility,” Victoria Berry, senior manager of PR and social media went ahead and threw out the word “arrogant.”

“Yes,” I said. “Exactly.”

They recalled Thorsten’s first earnings call, during which he admitted he would consider licensing the new BB10 platform and/or selling off the company if the options proved viable. They said partners were optimistic, and that the company was generally undergoing a major change in the way they looked at both themselves and the landscape.

But then we started talking about where RIM is headed.

Bhardwaj admitted that RIM, up until this point, has lacked a clear vision and identity. “We’ve never had a clear vision as to who we are, what we’re for, or the purpose of our strategy,” said Bhardwaj. “The conference is all about setting the stage for that.”

I was pleased at his conviction on behalf of the company, and he hit the nail right on the head. In today’s competitive landscape, the BlackBerry is no longer a hot, new device. It’s a BlackBerry. It’s almost a joke.

But then he went on:

We’ve identified in this world that there is an audience that not only appreciates what we build today but has this desire to really connect to the certain things in their life that they place value on, the things they value in their smartphones, and the things they value on their tablets. We’ve found that it’s different to what an iOS or Android user would put value on.

We’re going to set the stage for how important relationships are to BlackBerry users, as well as how important communities, networking, and messaging are to them. We have this legacy of email and we’ll continue to expand, but we haven’t taken the time to explain to people why messaging is important to our audience.

That sounded diplomatic enough, albeit vague with a touch of Lazaridis-style ego. (Remember this: “We’ve been singled out because we’re so successful around the world. It’s an iconic product. It’s used by business, leaders, celebrities, teenagers. We’ve just been singled out… because of our success.”)

I asked him to continue:

We want to make sure people understand who we are as a company. It’s important to know that BlackBerry isn’t for everyone. I don’t mean that in an egotistical or selfish manner, but there’s an audience that appreciates and desires what we deliver as an experience.

We need to make sure we’re messaging to them first and foremost.

That was the moment he lost me.

See, RBC released a report just yesterday saying that RIM may drop below the 5 percent mark in terms of market share, while Samsung and Apple gobble it up. Of course, this is an issue greater than numbers. Developers are far less likely to put money, time, and energy into a platform that comprises so little of the market, and thus consumers are less likely to buy hardware that stands so far behind its competition in terms of app selection.

Yet, from what Mr. Bhardwaj was telling me, it sounded like RIM is reverting back to its core competency: messaging. It was impossible for me to be sure of that of course — he had been speaking very generally. So I asked for specifics.

I pushed him about what that strategy and vision is really all about, specifically, who exactly the RIM audience is, and why they value BlackBerry messaging in particular?

We’ve done a lot of research on BlackBerry people, and we’ve seen some patterns. The research shows us that these people are hyper-connected, social networking is important to them, organizing their time is a priority, and relationships are really valuable to them. We also see that they want to be able to act and message in the moment, spread things instantly, and share things instantly. It’s very important to these people.

You see now why I’m frustrated by the whole “BlackBerry isn’t for everyone” thing now, right?

Essentially, RIM wants to be the king of messaging again. iMessage does basically the same exact thing as BBM now, but on an iPhone, and there are dozens of SMS-substitute apps (like WhatsApp) on both the App Store and Google Play. Granted, RIM still dominates in terms of secure corporate email and enterprise familiarity/reliability, but that consumer market has wandered elsewhere, searching for a little magic instead of a trackpad.

Messaging isn’t really a focus at all in today’s competitive landscape. Just because people are hyper-connected, socially active online, cognizant of their schedule, and constantly in communication, it doesn’t mean that they’re “BlackBerry people”. Hell, we buy phones to communicate, and text messaging has outweighed voice calls for a while now.

Duh! Messaging (and better yet, seamless quick messaging) is important. But what about everything else?

Well, apparently everything else isn’t really important to “BlackBerry people.”

There’s this market full of people who care first and foremost about messaging and social networking. Yes, apps are important, browsing is important, and games are important, but those aren’t what they value when they first use a smartphone.

They desire living technology — things they connect to and live and breathe by. BlackBerry is something people are always connected to. It’s an extension of their arm. That’s the type of audience we’re going for. What we’re trying to do is take the user interface and the design, and map it to the things they value like conversations and community, while making sure there’s no lag.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but clearly both iOS and Android were built around the idea that apps, browsing and games are highly important. You don’t need me to tell you how those stories have progressed.

“To my point earlier,” Bhardwaj continued, “it’s not for everyone. It’s not meant to be a platform that encompasses the world.”

Part of me, a very small part, understands what RIM is trying to do. They want to reshape the argument to say: maybe an Android or iPhone can do anything and everything, but a BlackBerry does the most important things really really well. He mentioned that RIM will move into the automotive space, leveraging the fact that QNX is baked into 300 million+ cars. “We want to be the platform that connects and simplifies the relationships, services and content, and intelligent things,” he explained.

In fact, he used a somewhat weird example to further describe what he was getting at, which involved the forthcoming, and much talked-about, intelligent fridge. He explained that the BlackBerry owner would walk by the grocery store, and immediately be notified that they’re out of milk. Meanwhile, an iPhone user would be sent directly to iTunes to buy a song about milk, whereas an Android owner would be sent to a Wikipedia page to learn the history of milk.

While Apple wants to sell you content and Google wants your browsing history, BlackBerry simply wants to connect you in a practical way. It sounds glorious, but that’s the vision, not the reality.

The reality is a brand new virtual keyboard, a desire to connect to developers with simplified SDK tools and device seeding programs, and an entirely new operating system (not a refresh — they’re really serious about that).

Yet, RIM isn’t ready to stray from their physical keyboards. Ms. Berry in PR mentioned that “of the 80 million users, I’m not sure how many but it’s a high percentage that say they like the keyboard.”

Oh. OK.

Well, the keyboard is quite nice. It’s intuitive, quick, and takes the soft keyboard to a new level. And the notion that RIM will make life a little easier on developers is a really pleasant thought. I can see it now — devs coding away and porting over Android apps to their brand new PlayBook, handed to them free of charge by a BlackBerry evangelist living out in the field.

But will developers really want to invest time, energy and most importantly, cash into this platform? Will a new keyboard be enough to save RIM?

Hells no.

A magic moment, one that changes the entire ecosystem (much like the iPad, iPod, and iPhone) will save RIM. A moment that takes the company out of the past, and even out of the present, and proves that they are the future. Seamless and easy car integration a la QNX, or something like the fridge example Mr. Bhardwaj offered, would do that. But again, those are just a vision, not the reality.

The reality is that “BlackBerry isn’t for everyone.”


The Future Of RIM: “BlackBerry Isn’t For Everyone”

AT&T Opening Watson Speech Recognition To Developers With New APIs In June

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Hot off of a AT&T Labs event held in New York City, AT&T has just announced they will be opening up their Watson speech recognition technology to developers this June.

Though Watson has been open to licensing for years now (Vlingo inked their licensing deal with AT&T in 2009, for instance), the release of the APIs means that developers of every stripe will soon be able to access AT&T’s voice transcription engine.

Tackling and interpreting voice input is no easy feat, and AT&T wants to help alleviate any potential headaches by tailoring multiple APIs for use in different specific contexts. Among the examples they list are APIs meant for interpreting web searches and questions respectively, as well as APIs for local business search, voicemail to text (a little Google Voice competition is nice to see), text messaging, and general dictation.

AT&T’s John Donovan is quick to reassure us that there’s much more to come — APIs meant for use in gaming and social media are also reportedly in the works, though they’ll actually be made available is another story entirely.

AT&T Labs has been working on Watson for over a decade now, and we’ve seen the service branch out into some familiar environments over the years. Perhaps as a shot across Ford and Nuance’s collective bow, AT&T (along with partners Panasonic and QNX) announced their plans to develop a car-centric voice command system at this year’s CES. Perhaps unsurprisingly, AT&T also made reference to an API geared toward their U-Verse television service that is specially tuned to handle voice inputs like movie title and actor names — not exactly the first time AT&T has made an overture for the living room.

That AT&T would eventually bring Watson into the mobile space may have been a given, especially considering the technology is prominently featured in existing apps like the AT&T Translator. Still, with the APIs nearly in place — not to mention forthcoming Speech Kit SDK that sends snippets of voice input to Watson servers for transcription — we could be on the verge of seeing the next big voice-powered apps.




AT&T Opening Watson Speech Recognition To Developers With New APIs In June

5 Things RIM’s New CEO Absolutely Must Not Do

man-with-stop-sign-in-front-of-his-face

Whenever a company appoints new leadership here in the tech world, the blogosphere seems to unanimously post about what the new top dog needs to do to make his or her company better. I promise, you’ll see dozens of headlines today talking about what Thorsten Heins must do in order to save BlackBerry.

In many cases, I agree with what’s being said. RIM’s in trouble, and without a new vision the company risks slipping even further behind the competition. You know… “the other fruit company.”

So rather than list out all of the things Heins needs to do to save the company (which, we can all agree, would take a really long time), I’m going to tell you guys the five things that Mr. Heins absolutely must not, without a doubt, under no circumstances… do.

That is, if RIM wants to keep selling smartphones.

Be Complacent

In less than a day at the post, Heins has proven himself to be quite the quote machine. My favorite: “I don’t think there is a drastic change needed.”

Alright, Mr. Heins. In that case we have a problem.

First, let’s just take a look at RIM’s numbers over the course of 2011. According to comScore, RIM slid from an 8.6 percent market share in January (as far as mobile phone OEMs go) to a 6.5 percent share in November. Where smartphone OSes are concerned, the dip was much more pronounced. RIM’s 30.4 percent share in January fell to almost half that, 16.6 percent, by November.

If these numbers can tell us anything, it’s that a drastic change is in fact needed. Yes, the BlackBerry brand did make a huge impact on the mobile landscape, and sure, there are still plenty of people in the Middle East and Europe (and even here) that heart their little BBM-machine. But whatever mind share the brand used to have is dwindling, just as the numbers are.

Sure, a superphone with killer specs would be great. A solid operating system? Yep, the company needs that too. But until leadership over in Waterloo realizes that enterprise-level security on messaging and a physical keyboard are no longer bringing in the “ooohs” and “aaahs”, nothing will change.

Lose Track Of Time

Anticipation can be deadly, as can forced urgency. RIM has struggled with both in the past year.

The company first announced it would be transitioning over to the QNX OS in April of 2010. It’s now 2012. Granted, the BlackBerry PlayBook is enjoying its QNX status (although the PlayBook has its own problems), but when we focus on smartphones the company has yet to offer or even announce a QNX-powered (BBX, or more formally BB 10) BlackBerry.

A big part of the mobile realm has to do with timing. If you know Apple’s about to release a new iPhone or that Google is about to pop out a new version of Android, you aren’t going to run out and pick up a new phone. No, you wait. It’s a fact these companies need to embrace.

If I’m a BlackBerry owner in April of 2010, and I hear that an entirely revamped, much more powerful OS is in the works, I want to wait to upgrade my hardware. But over the course of the year, Google launches Ice Cream Sandwich and Apple releases Siri and the iPhone 4S. And what do you know? RIM’s market share tanks to half of what it was. Obviously QNX wasn’t worth the wait for many.

I’m not saying the move to QNX is a bad decision. The opposite, in fact. But if you’re going to bet the company on a brand new OS, get yourself in gear and make it happen. And in the meantime, shut your lips about when it’ll be available and how awesome it is. You’re only frustrating your loyalists and asking potential Android/Apple defectors to come and check out… well, nothing.

But rushing is just as fatal, which is the story of the PlayBook. No need to relive that nightmare, but you know the important parts: no email, no contacts, no calendar, no PlayBook owners. It’s quite simple: If it’s not ready, we don’t want it.

Neglect Developers

RIM is more than just your basic OEM. The company provides services and, to an extent, builds out its own software. It’s an ecosystem, which is what every electronics company strives to be. But RIM’s ecosystem is one with a serious lack of wildlife — a tundra, if you will. Especially compared to the jungle of iOS and Android.

Developers take what is usually a very fundamental system and make it do everything and anything. Without the App Store, my iPhone is actually quite limited. That’s what owning a BlackBerry is like.

Compared to two app stores with well over half a million apps each, RIM’s BlackBerry App World boasts just 38,363. Unfortunately, at least 5,000 of them are visual themes. RIM’s own services like BBM are great but compared to other platforms, such a small selection (even with BBM) is a tough sell.

The good news is that any app built for PlayBook 2.0 will also run on BB 10, so in that way, RIM can double up on developers. Still, you need developers to build before you can run their app on both tablets and smartphones, and if I were a developer I’d already have lost interest. RIM needs to take note of this and create some incentives quickly.

If you have an iPhone or Android device, there’s probably an app for that.

Ignore Employees

Perhaps the greatest mistake that former RIM leadership made was to ignore the folks that comprise the company. I say it may be the biggest because who knows what kind of mind-blowing ideas and game-changing opportunities RIM has passed up under old leadership. In the past year, numerous open letters from both curernt and ex-employees have pointed to the same thing, over and over again: Mike and Jim didn’t listen to the lower level.

RIM has plenty of young guns, I’m sure, who are much more in tune with what today’s consumer wants from their smartphone. In fact, many of them probably grew up in a world where mobile phones were ubiquitous and smartphones are the growing norm, which can’t be said for Mike, Jim, or Thorsten.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that every single one of his new employees will be looking to see if he’s Mike/Jim’s new puppet (especially after this morning’s comments). They’re all waiting, likely pregnant with ideas on how to better the company, to see if he’ll turn an ear to them or not.

Hopefully he’s got his listening ears on.

Follow

It’s easy to follow when you’re already behind, but Mr. Heins must resist. It would be easy to follow Apple and Android because that’s largely what the company has been doing since 2009, when it launched a competing app storefront a year after Apple launched the App Store. But I’m less worried about that.

After the comments he made earlier today, namely that no change is needed, it would seem that Heins is already on Lazaridis and Balsillie’s team. The problem is that they refused to look forward, instead focusing on their glorious past. By saying that no change is needed, Heins is basically agreeing with them and telling the board, investors, and BlackBerry owners that the company has no real plans to compete in this landscape.

While the spec is dead (and megapixels don’t really mean that much in terms of picture quality), I remember the names Titan 2 and Xperia S because HTC and Sony hooked up these phones with 16- and 12-megapixel sensors. In the past year every flagship has had an 8-megapixel camera, and while I don’t think that either of these phones are a huge upgrade, they’re still the first of their kind.

It wouldn’t hurt RIM to try to be first at something. The company has likely forgotten the feeling of being first, which means they’ve likely also forgotten the value of it.

But everyone, most importantly the consumer, loves to be first.


5 Things RIM’s New CEO Absolutely Must Not Do

New RIM CEO: “I Don’t Think There Is A Drastic Change Needed”

ThorstenHeins

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins has only been at the reigns for an evening, but he did a very “BlackBerry” job of presenting himself to the media this morning on his introductory media call.

It felt a lot like the media calls of yore, with Balsillie and Lazaridis at the helm. Especially when Heins referred to Apple as “the other fruit company,” noting the two companies shared strategy of vertical integration. Unfortunately, vertical integration of software and hardware is about all that these two fruits have in common.

Remember folks, Heins is coming off of a four-year stint at RIM. At the relatively young company, Heins worked under founder Mike Lazaridis and his partner in crime Jim Balsillie. That said, you can basically hear Lazaridis-style hubris in Heins’ comments.

When asked if there was anything Heins wanted to do in the past, but was held back from by his position, Heins confirms that he (along with the freshly removed prior leadership) doesn’t see much wrong with RIM.

“At the time, the company was growing but still acting as a startup,” said Heins. “But startup processes don’t scale. Every company goes through that phase. I had the opportunity to learn about RIM here. I don’t think that there is a drastic change needed. We are evolving our tactics and processes. I don’t feel that I was held back in any way to do what I needed to do.”

So, let’s just parse this out, shall we? Heins, as COO, was never held back in executing operational decisions or strategies. That means that anything he has wanted to do to help grow (and likely save) the brand, he could’ve already done. In other words, don’t expect a brand new BlackBerry or a brand new RIM.

But the new CEO had plenty more to talk about, namely that he has no plans to split the software and hardware businesses. So you can kiss dreams of an Android-powered BlackBerry out the window for now.

No, it’s BB 10 all the way, courtesy of QNX. When asked whether QNX is really “the thing,” Heins responded by saying that “QNX is not developing an OS. It’s an existing OS. It’s used already. It’s a multi-threaded OS. What that allows us to do is true multitasking. You can have many apps open at the same time and really run them real-time in parallel.”

He finished his shpeel by noting that QNX is “an extremely competitive OS today.” Of course, we have no way of judging that until RIM fiddles around with it, makes it usable on a smartphone, and then finally releases it.

Heins also mentioned that he’d be open to licensing BB 10 to other manufacturers, “if it makes sense strategically and tactically.” But again, other manufacturers would likely need to see consumer reaction to the OS before anything like that went down, which brings us back to RIM’s most pressing and important near-term goal: get BB 10 to market quickly.

[via Engadget]


New RIM CEO: “I Don’t Think There Is A Drastic Change Needed”