Thanks, Blackberry, for bringing mobility to the masses, but the future belongs to the iPhone. There are many reasons for this but perhaps the most compelling is, at the heart of Canadian company Research in Motion's (RIM) culture lies an antiquated mobile technology: paging. So no matter how many Bolds, Curves, Pearls and Storms that RIM drums up - why so many? - the iPhone-like smartphone is simply not in RIM's DNA. Let's face it, RIM's phones are needlessly complex for end users, and RIM's app store looks like a Quik Mart compared to Apple's nearly 200,000-apps App Store.
Another nail in BlackBerry's coffin comes courtesy of consumers. While IT departments love the BlackBerry for its security measures and manageability, the power is shifting in favour of consumers. Macs and iPhones are clearly riding this trend deeper into the enterprise. Heck, the iPhone arguably ignited this consumer-driven tech trend.
Just look at the early adopters of the iPhone in the enterprise. Executives gave up their CrackBerry addiction for sleek, easy-to-use iPhones running consumer apps such as iPod, Facebook, travel apps, foreign-language voice-to-voice translation apps, and, especially relevant to executives, golf apps like Golfshot GPS. iPhones have been trickling down org charts ever since.
But don't take my word for it, check the numbers. It's the tale of two companies. RIM's stock price today is around US$70-a-share, nearly the same as it was a year ago. In the same time period, Apple stock has steadily soared from $120 last year to $260 today. The Silicon Valley company continues to be a Wall Street darling. In the world of technology and innovation, if you're not flying, you're falling.
Much of Apple's success is due to the storied three-year-old iPhone. In the most recent quarter, Apple sold 8.75 million iPhones, a 131 percent increase over the same quarter last year. The big quarter also topped the record-setting fourth quarter last year. Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, has called the iPhone growth rate "staggering." A new iPhone and iPhone OS 4.0 are expected to hit the streets this summer.
BlackBerry: A cultural conundrum
The first BlackBerry, released in 1999, was really just a glorified pager. BlackBerry's greatest user innovations were a hardware keyboard and a trackball. Little has changed despite new RIM offerings to rival the iPhone. RIM continues to tout secure text and e-mail messaging as the killer feature.
But that's like saying voice calling is by far the most used function on a smartphone. Apple estimates the average user spends 30 minutes a day on the iPhone - and that's not just time spent making calls or text messaging. The iPhone has also emerged as a serious mobile social gaming platform.
Apple has brought amazing new developments to the smartphone, such as mobile web browsing (I'm just going to assume you don't consider WAP real web browsing), GPS location-based services, mobile social networking, a user-friendly touchscreen, and not just one killer app but an entire app store.
It's this kind of innovation onslaught and mobile vision from Apple that spells doom for the venerable BlackBerry stuck in a bygone mobile era.
iPhone OS 4.0: Closing the Gap in the Enterprise
The BlackBerry's ace card, of course, is its huge installed customer base in the enterprise. Because of this, the BlackBerry isn't going to disappear overnight. But the BlackBerry's enterprise advantage has come under siege recently. Tyler Shields, senior member of the Veracode Research Lab, contends that the BlackBerry is susceptible to spyware that can steal sensitive corporate data, according to a CSO.com story, entitled Your BlackBerry's Dirty Little Security Secret.
The bigger threat, though, comes from the iPhone itself. Earlier this month, Apple took the wrappings off of iPhone OS 4.0. Much talk centered on iPhone OS 4.0 bringing critical user features such as multi-tasking, folders, hardware keyboard support, and Apple's mobile advertising platform called iAd. Less noticed, however, is iPhone OS 4.0's support for the enterprise.
iPhone OS 4.0 will support a new mobile device management service that lets IT departments manage configuration profiles on iPhones in a way that's on par with the BlackBerry - that is, wirelessly and automatically. iPhone OS 4.0 also lets companies provision their own apps to iPhones from corporate Web servers via a URL, email or an app.
On the security front, iPhone OS 4.0 will provide email and attachment encryption via your PIN, as well as SSL VPN support for Cisco and Juniper networks. iPhone OS 4.0 has 1,500 new APIs, including one that lets apps encrypt all data they store.
BlackBerry in the enterprise still has many advantages, but the iPhone is closing the gap quickly. "I come across an increasing number of CIOs - even in highly regulated industries - that have figured out today's iPhone fits their requirements and is much more capable than a BlackBerry," writes InfoWorld executive editor Galen Gruman, in his story Apple Stages Corporate Mobile Takeover with iPhone OS 4.0.
Given Apple's stranglehold on the consumer mobile market, if companies stop issuing BlackBerrys in favor of iPhones, that'll sound the death knell of BlackBerry.
Simplicity Rules the Day
The reason why the iPhone has become so darn popular so fast is because it's so darn easy to use. The BlackBerry, on the other hand, requires deep knowledge of advanced features.
My colleague at CIO.com, Al Sacco, a senior writer who claims to hold a BlackBerry blackbelt, has written a virtual tome of BlackBerry tips and tricks, called the BlackBerry Bible. But the iPhone is practically intuitive out of the box.
User friendliness is a major factor when picking a smartphone - and Apple has brought simplicity to the future of mobility. Truth is, Apple knows what people want before they do, such as mobile touchscreens, which doesn't bode well for the BlackBerry.
Sure, RIM will continue to follow Apple's lead with a touchscreen and an app store. But the real problem, again, is that complexity is part of RIM's makeup. Sacco calls advanced features, such as the ability to create "themes" across the UI, as part of user customisation. Yet anyone who's ever worked on an ERP project knows that customisation means complexity.
Better yet, go ahead and compare the usability of a BlackBerry and an iPhone yourself.
Sacco also debunks the single iPhone design, preferring the many BlackBerry flavors. "It's naïve to think that one device can or will satisfy the individual needs of millions," he told me. But this is another example of RIM's cultural handicap: RIM still thinks the game is won and lost on the hardware.
Two Words: App Store
The single iPhone design is a bit misleading because no two iPhones are alike. There are nearly 200,000 apps lining the App Store's virtual shelves. iPhone owners "customise" their phones by the apps they choose. The App Store is the juggernaut that's going to propel the iPhone into the future (and keep the Droid at bay, too).
"The user experience as defined by user interface and the services and software that are delivered on the device is what matters," says Gartner analyst Van Baker, speaking about the iPad and other mobile devices. "The manufacturers that focus on hardware features alone just don't get it."
The iPhone is the clear favorite smartphone platform for developers, according to a recent survey of 217 mobile app developers by market researcher Ovum. Eight out of 10 respondents are either developing apps for the iPhone or planning to do so.
To be fair, RIM's BlackBerry fared well in the study with 74 percent of respondents developing or planning to develop on the platform. But herein lies RIM's problem: RIM is following Apple in a mobile market that moves lightning fast. Vendor innovation is the key to the future of wireless, not playing catch-up.
It's startling to consider how the iPhone has changed the mobile game in less than three years. Apple continues to innovate and make improvements, such as iPhone OS 4.0, that resonate with consumers. Meanwhile, consumers are gaining more control over technology in the enterprise.
Since the debut of the iPhone, I've seen nothing from RIM that shows it can reverse this tide.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.