BlackBerry 10: Without platform or apps, even the Avengers can't save RIM

BlackBerry 10: Without platform or apps, even the Avengers can't save RIM

Summary: Sure, a sexy device matters. But without developer superheroes, the mighty RIM will meet its demise.


In my teens, I was a genuine geek. How do I know this, you ask?

My parents were (and still are) avid collectors of erotic art. My father always had Playboys lying around the house and made no attempt at concealing them from me and my younger brother.

There were nude etchings from Louis Icart and other prints from well-known Art Deco and Art Nouveau artists and photographers hung all over the walls. Not to mention Shunga prints from Japan, which left absolutely nothing to the imagination.

I guess they wanted to expose us to this stuff so we wouldn't grow up being prudes.

Sure, I looked at them. Gawked at them even to the point where I got completely desensitized to it. I'm not going to lie, though. The Deco and Nouveau goddesses depicted in these photos and paintings were very alluring to me in my teen and pre-teen years.

But as a kid, what really interested me most was comic books. Marvel, DC, you name it. Superheroes. Classic Jack Kirby, John Byrne, John Buscema, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Bob Layton, Neal Adams, Walt Simonson, Bill Sienkiewicz.

This is the type of stuff that got a teenager's blood pumping, not creamy white women in flowing see-through gowns from the 1920's and 30's lounging come-hither on ornate sofas with their sleek greyhounds, or Shogun warriors taking their mistresses on tatami mats in every position imaginable.

Now, as an adult, I have a much finer appreciation for the kind of sex-inspired artwork that my parents collected. But I would still rather have a Jack Kirby adorning my office than a Louis Icart. Sex absolutely has its place in art, but it has to be in balance with everything else.

Jack Kirby or Neal Adams doesn't belong in my bedroom, though.

My ZDNet colleague, James Kendrick wrote a piece yesterday about how BlackBerry OS 10 as a device really has to wow the public in order for RIM as a company to survive. That this is the last chance before everything goes completely flaccid.

Platform, he says, is not nearly as important as the sex appeal of the gadget in question.

I agree that sex appeal for a device is important. But if you don't have the superheroes, you can forget about success of the entire thing.

What do I mean by superheroes? I mean the developers and the platform.

It just so happens Apple has the correct balance between Sex and the Superheroes, which is why iOS and iPhone is so alluring.

Android has a huge amount of Superheroes, with a good platform and strong developer activity, but not so much Sex as Apple. So for the time being, they are doing very well, but it's pretty damn obvious why Google bought Motorola, so that they can beef up the Sexy.

Android cannot continue with just pure Superheroes, and Google knows it.

With Windows Phone, Microsoft definitely has the Sexy with Nokia and the Lumia, and they have a genuinely good platform. But they're missing the Superheroes to live in the Hall of Justice or the Avengers Mansion -- the developer base.

However, I think that Microsoft will eventually be able to assemble the teams to code the apps, even if they have to pay them outright.

Okay, so maybe not so much Avengers or the Justice League but S.H.I.E.L.D or the Legion of Doom on a Tony Stark budget. If anything, Microsoft has the money to accomplish its goals.

I think there's no question that RIM knows how to accomplish the sexy. Their hardware builds, at least in their upper-end handsets have always been excellent, and while they languished for a while with OS 7 and earlier, the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 platform is a genuinely good one.

I know so, because it's exactly the same platform which runs on the PlayBook, and I have nothing but good things to say about QNX and the PlayBook platform. The PlayBook has the most diverse set of APIs to code to of all the mobile platforms -- Native C++, Webworks (HTML5), Android Dalvik and Adobe AIR.

And there's no question that the PlayBook is an incredibly sexy, well-built device and the UI is one of the best in the industry, and has probably the best built-in browser and the most resilient OS of any of the mobile platforms. In fact at $199.00 for a 16GB Wi-Fi model I think it's one of the best values in tablets today.

The problem is that the PlayBook lacks superheroes. Developers. Without the developers, you have no apps. With no apps, you can have the sexiest device in existence but nobody is going to buy the thing.

Microsoft initially had this problem with Windows Phone, but it is slowly gaining momentum which will only accelerate once the Metro UI is in the mainstream on tablets and the desktop, and developers have more exposure to it.

Unfortunately, RIM doesn't have the Tony Stark or Victor Von Doom budget of Microsoft to play the waiting game. If they don't get developers jazzed now, there won't be any apps worth talking about by the time the first BlackBerry 10 handset launches, no matter how sexy the thing looks and feels like.

Without developers, It will be a repeat performance of the PlayBook launch. And then RIM will be done.

Part of the problem is that I believe RIM has wasted too much valuable time on courting Android developers to port consumer apps to PlayBook OS/BlackBerry 10's Dalvik engine, where they should have been encouraging native C++ QNX and Webworks development, which fully exploit the capabilities of the device.

I also believe that the consumer market is a huge waste of time where the company should really be focusing on its strengths -- the enterprise. Apple and Google already has the consumer market, and Microsoft is going to end up getting whatever sloppy seconds is left over from whoever is fed up with iOS or Android.

Showing off 3D games at a developer trade show in Orlando may make for some nice eye candy, but nobody in the enterprise cares about that. They want things like business data visualization and enterprise app connectivity.

I'll say it now and I'll say it again -- the company needs to get back to business. And the superheroes that RIM wants and needs wear suits, starched white shirts and polished shoes, not the geeky T-shirts of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper.

What kind of superheroes does Research in Motion really need to save BlackBerry? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Apps, Mobile OS, Mobility, BlackBerry, Security, Software Development


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Depends

    Whether RIM should concentrate on Enterprise or Consumer depends on which model you expect ultimately to prevail. If you believe most corporate mobile devices will be purchased and issued by companies, then if you want Enterprise sales you must focus on the Enterprise. If, on the other hand, you believe that over the next few years most of the mobile devices on corporate networks will be brought to the company by the workers, then even to get Enterprise sales you must appeal to consumers.
  • Nice comic tie-in

    I had no idea you were so well versed in the comic world.

    Excelsior! ;)
    John Zern
    • Nuff Said

      You forgot this line :)
  • re: Without platform or apps

    Great title, now we need to convince the millions of people downloading blackberrry apps EVERY day that they are delusional, as this article articulates perfectly.
  • Not a surprise - They took almost a year to get email on a tablet

    How can developers or customers have any faith the platform?

    RIM in 5 years?

    If they are lucky, a small North American head office, call centers in India and Indonesia , and the bulk of their residual income from traditional messaging (which is incredibly popular in those regions).

    RIM needs to distinguish itself. Play the security card. Countries want to monitor blackberry traffic, so add full in-band TAPI support so that apps can encode and send highly secure messages through the voice band using whatever encryption the user wants.

    This should be the go-to platform for secure communication, yet reliability is a mess and their pandering to every country that wants to monitor data has devalued the whole thing.
    • You dont even understand their market !!

      Nor do I to be fair. But my kids and their pals want Blackberry for the instant messaging alone, camera and their AV media too. Me; I love my BB Torch and enterprise support. I have an iphone... sits in my bag for testing as the secure email app is a pain with never-ending password entry everytime I come out of it.

      This market is big enough for multiple players. Nobody needs or deserves 100% as some clowns here would like to see. Plenty companies would survive on a few percent... that few percent will likely equate to the total market a few years back. And lastly.. how many apps do we really use very often. I dont use more than 20 and not very often in a month. Lets be serious about this; most of us use a handful of free apps. I've got a couple of useful cheap ones but I've not spent more than 5 quid in total.

      What reliability issue are you on about. I'm aware of one outage recently; sporadic and annoying but far less than many normal telecomms issues are. I get alerts for issues daily, re masts and outages across regions.... so what; thats not a Blackberry specific problem and it happens all the time. I get my igizmo enterprise email flow controlled (aka kaput) many times a month never mind once a year. I don't hear anyone bitching and whining about that. Oh thats right it runs on IOS and must be great?????

      'Pandering to every country' - translates to losing 100% of the business in that country if they dont buy-in. That aint pandering, that's common sense.
  • I think Mr Perlow is wrong about focusing on enterprise

    for a number of reasons.

    First and foremost, that's been Blackberry's focus and look where it's gotten them. From King of the Hill to Bottom of the Barrel.

    Second, with more and more companies adopting a BYOD device policy, it REQUIRES that Blackberry capture the heart of consumers so they will purchase a Blackberry for the 3D games and take that same device to work if necessary.

    I do agree more developers are needed. I ported some of my Android apps to App World and got a free Playbook. I must say, I love it. I would never have considered it but since they were giving it away for free, I'd be a fool not to get one. Point being, Blackberry needs to get people to "see" why they need one.

    But this goes back to my original point. It's not "business" apps that have made iOS and Android take off. It's "consumer" apps that are doing that (think Words with Friends, Angry Birds, Instagram, etc). In fact, Android didn't really get taken seriously until major game developer outfits started writing for it. Apple was the first to prove that consumers are the way to billions. Google followed their example and Microsoft took note. To say that following a failed model of focusing on businesses is the way to success is foolish. If that wasn't true, why even bother with making a touchscreen phone? "That" is directly mimicking the "consumer" focus of Apple, Google and Microsoft.
    • "why even bother with making a touchscreen phone?"

      Hate to burst this bubble again, but touch screen phones originate in the business world. I had the HTC Wallaby before Apple had an iPod on the market, let alone an iPhone..... so there is nothing wrong with 'adding' this functionality to a Blackberry. The problem with Blackberrie(y?)s has been obvious to me from the first day that RIM entered the market. There was a whole bunch of hype and 'tech' writers buzz about the all new Blackberry, about 'messaging' and then they showed you a picture of the device and I looked with disbelief at the multitasking, multimedia device in my hand and then back to the page where the boring alternative fruit named device being hyped-up was displayed. They were truly 'functional' in every sense of the word and remained so.
      • Not saying touchscreens are a new phenomenon but...

        look at all the devices made after Blackberry came out - most looked like Blackberries and even those that had touchscreens were resistive. Your Wallaby might have been out before the iPod but I'd bet it didn't function as well.

        But since we're talking Blackberry and not HTC, Blackberry released the Storm. That wasn't until *after* the iPhone and G1 was released - both capacitive touchscreens while Blackberry was pumping out little non-touchscreens.

        Hence, as far as Blackberry is concerned, yes why even bother with making a touchscreen if business was functioning fine without one (and the touchscreen they have is still subpar)? The business world didn't drive the multimedia craze on mobile. iPhone did that. HTC Evo satisfied the lust for that multimedia on a bigger screen. And Blackberry has been preaching "business, business, business!" and now with BYOD business has abandoned them.

        Trickle down economics doesn't work in finance and it doesn't work in mobile either. Or is iPhone, Android and even WP7's success due to the business world?
    • I think you are right

      Companies tried to sell tablets for years before apple made it popular. The reason Apple succeeded was they marketed the iPad as a personal entertainment device rather than a laptop replacement. Laptops are pretty impressive devices for businessmen. They are tough to compete with for the "road warrior". The biggest hook is how fun and personal they are and for that you need entertainment apps, primarily games. Both iOS and android are dominated by games apps.
      The Star King
      • Amen!

        Well said.
    • I think too many folk focus on the older BB models

      Totally agree the older models adre way too clunky, and far too many different models. I use a Torch in preference to my iPhone and love it. Big touchscreen and a slider keyboard for use bouncing about in a car etc.

      Theres plenty scope in the market for these good devices, and many folk dont use more than a few apps seriously anyway. What do I want in a business tool; decent battery life (forget the iphone), good physical keyboard (forget the iphone), mail that comes through without the app being open - Blackberry. Yes there are limitations but many of us weigh it up and choose a decent Blackberry model. That said I wouldn't touch the small screen ones again and I guess 90% of users have them. RIM... dump the junk and stick to a few decent models that can grow with us. The iphone is the perfect example of form growing in time. One current model, and the previous ones still supported. That aspect is great!!
    • No, he is not wrong.....

      RIM themselves, have announced that they are abandoning the consumer market to concentrate solely on the enterprise market. Since most business employees are also consumers, this will be the death of RIM. Unless RIM can snag some very large business contracts to keep them afloat, they will not last very long.
      linux for me
  • I think they already have developers

    @perlow, I really don't think apps are the issue. I don't need a ton of apps. I just need the apps that come with the phone to integrate well. IMO I like my BB's functionality fine, the only thing I would like is more speed, more resolution and a slightly bigger screen (4 inch I think is a good balance).

    It should have a nice GPU so that people can play some serious games and run netflix etc. But the big problem is that the specs don't match.
  • There is no corporate market

    Sitting here at Blackberry World and speaking with many Fortune 100 companies that value the Blackberry solution RIM has heard crystal clear do not expect your success of BB10 to depend on us.

    Almost every corporate account is moving to a persoanl liable model where employees purchase the device. The % that use corporate liable will be smaller. RIM needs to appeal to employees who want their device and we (corporate) will have the backend to secure our data (access / DLP etc).

    But agree with earlier comment. RIM can appeal if they can have comparable offering. Right now they do not and need to have the same Apps their competition have. What I'm hearing is Android developers want to make money, right now only iOS is making money and due to the volume of developers on that platform only a few are still making profit. How your App gets exposure is the difference and only the big key Apps will have significant sales. As long as those key apps are on all platforms it will be down to unique features and cost.

    Apple is locking into set price points and heavily depends on carrier subsidy to meet those price points. HTC and other Android developers are seeing fading sales due to the chaos in Android. Normal users have no interest in the latest Android OS (the bulk run a 3 year old version) Joe public wants a (thin) touch screen and cheap (no) cost.

    Windows Phone is done. Nokia is not going to change that. Windows 8 is not going to change that. Microsoft needs to just forget mobile, they blew it when they failed migrating from Windows Mobile to Phone. RIM is in the same period and how / if they succeed or fail will not be known until this time next year.
  • errrr.. i dunno

    I thinks this a 50/50 call. On the one side, the developers are critical to get the app' ecosystem in the groove and to make it attractive to potential buyers. On the opposite extreme, as another ZDNet blogger rightly points out, you also need a great device to house all those app's - with amazing capabilities in and of itself.

    And that's exactly where the iPhone trumps RIM. The sooner RIM realizes this, the better.

    We've reached a performance and consumer expectation plateau that no OEM can fall beneath if it wants and expects to succeed in. The iPhone has set the bar for those expectations ... it's up to the others to try and catch, match or (dare i say it) surpass the benchmark set by Apple.

    ( n.b. brings back fond memories, the dead Avenger (Vision) was one of my favorites during the 70's .. and the Avenger movie would've been better served if they included the Fantastic 4. Also, the bad guys would've been better if they had Dr. Doom working in cahoots with them ... hey, i think i just provided Marvel with the makings for the sequel. 'Nuff said! ;) )
  • ...

    I think you may want to spend a little less time focusing on superheroes and a little more time focusing on business realities.

    While, I agree with the basic premise of your article, that developers make a platform and RIM/Nokia are suffering because of the lack of that. Your whole idea about "sexy" is just wrong. "Sexy" is just how companies choose to market their products to consumers and how consumers perceive them. Google doesn't need Motorola, of all companies to do this. The two best consumer marketing companies on the planet today are Apple and Samsung.
  • To late for RIM/Blackberry.

    With the smart-phones I only see a future with iPhone, Android and Windows Phone (Mango).
    Windows Phone was late out, but with the coming Tango and especially Apollo update they will compete fine.
    Even Steve Wozniak seems to like Windows Phone:

    I think RIM/Blackberry are just to late to compete with the others in this field.
    Outside US and Canada they are very unknown to. Almost nobody in Europe use any Blackberry device.
    • negativity overdone

      i think this negativity about rim is overdone, the real issue is too many people are hung up with apple going to 1000/share story, many may have very large bets on it. if rim makes a comeback poof that dream disappears, hence all the venom being spit. but the consumers and businesses are not blind they will buy a great new product from rim when it is on shelf before x'mas.
    • @johnh3 .. too late, says who?

      There's room enough in a huge smart-phone & tablet market place that, actually, you could argue that there simply isn't enough top quality choices. That's where RIM can easily fit in - and deserves to fit it.

      RIM have great hardware design but in recent years seem to have lost their mojo. They simply don't have the app' ecosystem to compliment their great devices. I don't believe it's too late for RIM to turn the situation around. The problem is whether they're honest enough to admit they need a complete turn about in company mindset and get innovating again ... like yesterday!