Why One Of The Biggest Tech Companies Is Now In Deep Trouble
It’s amazing to think that BlackBerry was once the darling of the tech industry. With their QWERTY keyboards, email capabilities and web browsers they were the device of choice for business professionals across the globe gaining the nickname CrackBerry. But today BlackBerry Ltd., formerly known as Research In Motion, are a company on their deathbed clutching for life having been beaten down by competitors like Samsung and Apple. They have billions of pounds worth of loses, cancelled two upcoming smartphones and let go of over a thousand employees as a result. So where did it all go horribly wrong for the company that could? How did BlackBerry’s fresh name in the tech world turn so sour?
Apple Took A Bite Out Of BlackBerry’s Success
Their descent can be charted back to 2007 when Apple announced a competitor to the BlackBerry: the iPhone. Apple saw a market for smartphones geared at general consumers and not just business professionals. They gave their phone a user-friendly design, attractive look and a snazzy touchscreen. BlackBerry mocked the phone. Priding themselves on their email capabilities, they laughed at its lack of a keyboard that would allegedly make it difficult to send messages on the go.
Just short of five years later, however, Apple’s iPhone was taking over the world. Customers left, right and centre were jumping ship. All the while, BlackBerry stood by its commitment to their original vision and their co-founders and CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis continued to emphasize that the iPhone would not be a threat to RIM’s empire.
BlackBerry’s Fruitless Attempts To Evolve
In January 2012, the old-hat co-CEOs were replaced by Thorsten Heins. However, he did very little to restore faith in BlackBerry. Their attempt to enter the tablet market with the PlayBook was laughable. Missing the entire point of the device and deciding that tablets were just a large smartphone, it was lacking in almost all of the areas that made Apple and Samsung’s entries popular. That’s not to mention another staggering omission: it didn’t ship with an e-mail provider angering even their most loyal customers. After all, doing what you are good at is generally a decent rule when you are running a business.
Heins responded to the criticisms by saying that tablets are not a good model for any business and would be dead in a few years anyway replaced by “big screens in the workplace”. His comments were so bizarre and out of touch with the tech marketplace that Heins might as well have announced the BlackBerry Pager.
Not a lot more successful than the PlayBook was the BlackBerry Z10, their late attempt to dethrone the iPhone. It was plagued by delays, dysfunctional apps and poor design. It consequently severely underperformed on the market.
BlackBerry’s inability to look forward extended deep into the company’s boardrooms too. A year later, in early 2013, they were approached by Justin Bieber who asked for $200,000 and 20 devices in exchange for becoming the company’s brand ambassador. You would imagine that any company would leap at an offer to work alongside the world’s biggest pop star who has 48 million Twitter followers, several platinum albums and two multimillion dollar movies. However, they rejected him on the basis that he was “not going to last”.
The Future Looks Dark For BlackBerry
Ironically, it seems BlackBerry were really the ones who would not last. Having reported loses of around $1 billion by September of 2013 they were finally forced to go private. Only, seeing as most of the major tech giants had already bought a mobile phone manufacturer by this point (Google owned Motorola, Microsoft owned Nokia, etc.) BlackBerry were like the last one standing in a game of musical chairs that ended a long time ago. Nobody wanted to take them — literally, nobody — and they were made to try and regain their loses through the sale of convertible notes.
Thorsten Heins was sacked only 11 months after he was put in charge because of this and John Chen stepped in as an interim manager. He outlined a new strategy for the company at the end of 2013 which included scrapping the development of all smartphones and focusing instead on more intangible services like cyber-security and BlackBerry’s instant messaging service BBM.
BlackBerry’s contribution to the mobile phone market has been invaluable. They created a tremendous device that essentially challenged every phone developer to change, to evolve, or else face demise. However, as the likes of Apple, Samsung, Windows and more met the challenge and continued to look ahead BlackBerry stubbornly stood their ground. Perhaps they arrogantly believed their efforts were simply a fad that would disappear while BlackBerry remained king. Perhaps they simply didn’t have the innovative vision of their competition to constantly adapt to customer demands. But as BlackBerry stood their ground everyone passed them by. Now, they’re just a fading shadow in the distance trying desperately, and hopelessly, to catch up. Only time will tell if they can, but it’s going to be quite a challenge.