Research In Motion has finally got some buzz going in its favor with the impending launch of its latest Blackberry operating system and devices. The launch, on January 30, will add another viable player in what seems to be a clear duopoly among mobile players — Apple and Samsung. iOS and Android have virtually sucked the air out of the room with their market share of smartphones.
Having said that, if Blackberry’s only hope is to take market share from Windows Phone, I believe they would be setting themselves up for failure from the get go. There are many reasons for why I believe so.
- Windows Phone market share: First of all, Windows Phone has not really taken the world by storm. Among various mobile usage and sales measurement reports, we have seen Windows Phone market share being reported as anywhere between 3% and 5%. That is virtually zero, especially for a platform planning to dominate the market. If anything, Blackberry 10 should target iOS and Android.
- RIM’s traditional market: RIM has traditionally sold well to CIOs, especially with their very secure platform and very IT-friendly management options for devices. Windows Phone has not penetrated the enterprise market at all. RIM would be better off focusing on their existing IT customers and make sure they are happy with the upcoming platform, devices and services.
- BYOD and IT adoption of the iPhone: Many “Blackberry shops” like banks and other financial institutions have switched over from Blackberry to iPhone. This is more of an employee-driven movement than a pure CIO play. The reality is that CIOs have started losing their grip on tightly managing the procurement of employee mobile devices. Today’s enterprise sees employees telling their CIOs about which devices to support. CIOs on the other hand have started warming up to iPhones because iOS has come a long way in becoming enterprise-friendly and “secure”.
- Anti-Apple factor, and the Android phenomenon: Traditionally, Blackberry users have resisted using the iPhone for a variety of reasons like the lack of QWERTY keyboard, or being “too limited” due to the walled garden called the iTunes App Store and such. As a result these Blackberry users have switched over to Android when they gave up their dear device. Blackberry 10 devices will have to contend with the Android phenomenon, which now is reportedly activating more than 1 million devices a day.
In some ways, yes, RIM’s immediate competition will in fact be Windows Phone 8 because Microsoft has beefed up its enterprise offerings in Windows Phone 8. However, RIM should keep their eyes on the bigger prize and that is stemming the enterprise buyer (CIO) from switching to iOS and appeal to “pro” users who have moved on to Android.
Granted, Windows Phone 7 was missing a ton of features as compared to the competition, but the fact that a new and different operating system was unable to make any dent in the market does not bode well for RIM. With its market share dwindling, it not only has to come out of the gate with killer hardware and smooth software, it also has to rev up the developer ecosystem so all key apps (at least) exist on the platform. All that would only be good for “launch day”. The most important phase for RIM will be the period after launch where it would have to sell devices to consumers and enterprise, so the developer momentum starts/continues. We have seen most mobile companies stutter and fail in that aspect, so it will be very interesting to see how RIM does, and more importantly, how the market reacts to RIM.
I am eager to see RIM succeed because the duopoly that is Apple and Samsung does need some stiffer competition, but I am not sure if the customers want to have more than two choices. The market share in the past several quarters seems to point to the fact that two is enough.