August 28, 2013

Innovation, Customer Feedback & The Future of BlackBerry

If the incredible twists and turns of recent years in the mobile industry suggest anything, it is this: companies that don’t continue to innovate and listen to their customers will get left in the dust. Once considered infallible, handset makers like Nokia and BlackBerry are struggling mightily to survive. Apple and Samsung, on the other hand, are constantly reinventing their products and are the dominant players in the smartphone and tablet markets.

A few weeks ago, BlackBerry announced in a press release that it would be exploring its strategic options, or in layman’s terms, looking for a buyer. How did a company that was once the dominant player in its space fall so far so fast? A series of failed product launches – from its original touch-screen BlackBerry Storm to its dead-on-arrival BlackBerry Playbook tablet – and operating systems – from BBX to BlackBerry 10 – certainly didn’t help the cause. Also a contributing factor to BlackBerry’s demise was their failure to listen to their customers’ requests and act accordingly.

Earlier this year, the company announced its intention to migrate their proprietary mobile application software, BlackBerry Messenger (or BBM), to other OS platforms like Android and iOS. The announcement made news at the time if for no other reason than it meant that one of BlackBerry’s last remaining bulkheads was finally destined to hop across borders.

During the announcement that BlackBerry would open BBM to other platforms, Andrew Bocking, Executive VP Software Product Management and Ecosystem at BlackBerry, made a telling statement. He said that this move is something BlackBerry users had been asking the company to make for years. Which begs the question – if users had been asking for it for years, why did it take so long? One of the obvious answers is that BlackBerry hoped BBM, along with the security provided to government and corporate clients by BES, would help keep BlackBerry users from jumping ship to iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone. Hindsight is 20/20, but that hope was clearly misplaced.

Only time will tell what is in store for BlackBerry, but the key takeaway here is important to note. The global revenue share of BlackBerry plummeted by 40% to $12.2 billion for the fiscal year ending March, 2013 and one of the biggest reasons attributed to this drop was its inability to match the time-to-market of competitors. The sluggish response to the rapidly changing mobile landscape and their failure to listen to customers further eroded the market dominance and signaled the downfall of the once mighty BlackBerry.