Can Blackberry Go From Enterprise to Consumer ?

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When I worked in the corporate world, everyone had a Blackberry phone. I also had one for a while. For me, I liked having my calendar synced the most. Getting email was cool for a while too, but became annoying when I got too much at bad times, like when I was trying to sleep. Blackberry was also infamous for making people addicted to checking their mail on their phone, creating the term ‘Crackberry’. Up until 2009 or so, Blackberry was in its glory days. It was the King of Enterprise.

However, a new kid on the block came along called Apple iPhone. The iPhone  has managed to change the way people communicate. It no longer segregated business and personal communication, but instead blurred the line and effectively made it into one in the same thing. I believe the key to Apple’s success is creating an eco-system of a solid product and an open platform for 3rd party developers to create both useful and entertaining apps that people value. Apple essentially paved the way and everyone else was, and still is trailing behind. Android is quickly catching up but that is a whole other story.

Realizing the trend that even business people want to have some fun on their mobile phone, whilst having the option to do business related activities, Blackberry is shifting its strategy from enterprise to consumer. The two big questions that arise are:

1. Should they even try?

2. Can they achieve it?

Should they even try?

Research in Motion or RIM, the company that created the Blackberry, built its reputation on offering a truly secure way for business people to send and receive email over their mobile. It did this so well that Blackberry’s became the standard of office utilities. When you joined a corporate company, you were handed a laptop and a Blackberry (of course depending on your job).

No

RIM successfully established itself as the enterprise solution for mobile. Everyone knows that Blackberry is for business and has a clear competitive advantage doing it. So some argue that RIM should not confuse the market about what its brand stands for. People on this ‘no’ side of the argument say that it should focus on what it’s good at.

Yes

However I actually feel they need to target consumers, for the reason I mentioned above. The market and mobile eco-system is breaking down the wall between business use and lifestyle use. It is a trend I can only see getting stronger. Business specific use cases are no longer technology driven but application driven. Through the power of crowd-sourcing and open access, 3rd party developers will always be able to build business apps quicker and often better than one company can. Why? Because today’s developers have a start-up mentality of meeting the needs of people like themselves and they can experiment at low costs.

RIM themselves are not stupid. For them to want to move from enterprise to consumer, they must have done a lot of strategic analysis, invested a lot of money and felt a lot of market pressure to make the transition. I feel they have to transition, otherwise they could be accelerating their decline.

Can they achieve it?

So let’s assume they should move to the consumer side. Can they pull it off?

At the recent Transmit China Conference, sponsored by RIM Blackberry, everyone was generously given a complimentary Blackberry Playbook. Of course everyone was initially excited about getting a brand new tech toy. But after playing with it for a few hours, the sentiment started to sour. Where is the email client? Why does the app store not have a good selection of apps? Why does it take so long to turn on? How do I go back to the menu? The day after we were given the Playbook’s, news broke that RIM’s shares dropped almost 22%, after reports of declining sales revenue.

RIM management know they have a tough battle ahead. But they seem to think they have what it takes. In what appears to be a David versus Goliath battle (RIM being David and Apple/Android being Goliath), RIM says that they indeed are a company focused on the consumer, even more than Apple. “Blackberry focuses on the ‘We’ and Apple focuses on ‘i’ (iPad, iPhone etcc), they say. They say this because at the core of Blackberry’s advantage is their BBM or Blackberry Messenger, a technology that allows anyone to instantly message anyone. An example of this is when users play a game; all players can send messages to one another in-game. However, I see this advantage being diluted by more cross-platform solutions like Openfeint, which connects users through chat and a leader board.

Another key ingredient RIM is trying to grow is their App World. For most developers, Apple iOS is the worthwhile platform to generate money based on the solid payment gateways and growing user base. Android is also starting to attract more developers, based on its open source system plus access to the long tail of consumers with cheaper phones. RIM needs to create an equally strong platform and incentives to attract more developers. This initiative is underway.

Get ready to rumble

The reality is RIM and their weapon, Blackberry, have a long way to go. Recently an InMobi study revealed that 52% of BlackBerry users plan on switching to iPhone 5. Furthermore, today Reuters reported that RIM is likely to have stopped production of the Blackberry Playbook and cancelled additional tablet projects.

In the long run, who knows what is going to happen? At least RIM is climbing into the ring and trying to fight for position.