Home » Opinions » BlackBerry is the New Palm (& that's a good thing)

BlackBerry is the New Palm (& that's a good thing)

Gordon Kelly by

BlackBerry is the New Palm (& that's a good thing)

meReading the headline I can hear the cat calls now: ‘Hang on a minute Kelly…’ ‘Patronising much?' ‘But we quite like what we’ve seen so far…’ And to you all my response may be surprising: the headline is a compliment.

A Case of History Repeating

Firstly let’s look at the parallels, because they are quite astonishing. In general terms both companies were founded in the 90s, released their first smartphones in the 00s (18 months apart), primarily targeted business customers with the hook of mobile access to their email and both ultimately fell victim to the touchscreen revolution started by the iPhone in 2007 and carried on by Android.

invite

And it goes on: in an effort to fightback Palm rebranded from PalmOne to Palm and wrote WebOS - an entirely new platform built from the ground up. It was designed to appeal to both business users and consumers with much touted touch gestures that originated from the bezel. It released a pair of phones which kept their physical keyboards so as not to alienate long term Palm users and a tablet, the TouchPad, which bombed spectacularly due to a lack of app support.

In an effort to fightback BlackBerry has rebranded from RIM and written BlackBerry 10 - an entirely new platform built from the ground up. It is designed to appeal to both business users and consumers with much touted touch gestures that originate from the bezel. It has released a pair of phones, one of which kept a physical keyboard so as not to alienate long term BlackBerry users and prior to this it had launched a tablet, the PlayBook, built upon the foundations of BlackBerry 10 which bombed spectacularly due to a lack of app support.

market

Market Forces

Of course there are differences. Palm’s period of success was much smaller, occurring arguably from just 2004-2007 so it never reached BlackBerry’s level of sales or became the same pillar to the business community. Palm also fell into heavy debts whereas Blackberry, despite sizable losses, remains debt free. Yet significantly when Palm unveiled WebOS in 2009 it was universally acclaimed and there was a genuine sense of goodwill that people wanted it to succeed.

By contrast the response to the first BlackBerry 10 phone, the BlackBerry Z10, has been muted, acknowledging innovations but sceptical about its potential to attract customers from iOS, Android or even Windows Phone. When WebOS launched in 2009 the smartphone market was still formative enough that a small company might just succeed through innovation alone. Launching in 2013 BlackBerry 10 arrives in a market which saw over 700m smartphone sales in 2012, where 90 per cent of the market is dominated by two players and a third is struggling to gain a foothold despite a turnover of nearly $74 billion and workforce of 94,000 employees.

Market investors don’t see much hope either. BlackBerry’s price crashed to $12.92 on the day Blackberry 10 was unveiled from a high of $18.49 the previous week wiping almost 30 per cent off the company’s value. Interestingly the high had been the company’s first significant spike in 18 months as expectation built ahead of the launch.

shares

The Platform For Success

So why is the headline a compliment? It is because WebOS saved Palm. It was a complete reinvention of the company that transformed it from an also-ran teetering on the brink of economic meltdown to one of the hottest properties in technology. It caused a bidding war that saw HP pay $1.2 billion for the company in April 2010, just nine months after the first WebOS handset went on sale. It wasn’t Palm’s fault that HP made such an unholy mess of the entire thing that it ceased production of all WebOS devices by August 2011 as part of an identity crisis that has seen the company question its direction ever since.

As is, BlackBerry 10 won’t succeed. The BlackBerry brand has been too far damaged by everything from its own poor performance to use of its BBM messaging system in the London riots. It doesn’t have the financial resources to turn around its credibility on a global scale nor the scale of manufacturing to be able to bring down costs to compete with the pricing and profit margins of the main players. Quite simply, there is no reason anyone should buy a BlackBerry Z10 or Q10 phone right now other than nostalgia, an unhealthy obsession with the underdog and a misplaced sense of duty.

But the point is ’’it’’ doesn’t have the financial resources or scale of manufacturing. Others do. Like WebOS the triumph of BlackBerry 10 is it is potentially good enough to succeed if the keys are handed over to someone else. At the very least BlackBerry needs to license the platform to those with deeper pockets, if not an outright sale. A BlackBerry Galaxy handset is certainly something to excite the masses and surely a tech giant such as Samsung would be keen to spread the risk of being beholden to Google by buying the platform outright. After all it is the same motivation which has seen it experience first with Bada and now Tizen and BlackBerry still comes with the added bonus of a place in business infrastructure neither Apple or Google has yet to fully replace.

Z10 Q10

A Leap of Faith

Ultimately we need to give up on the idea of BlackBerry handsets staging a romantic comeback, the notion of the Canadian company’s fightback is preposterous against the combined forces of Apple, Google and Microsoft. What isn’t preposterous, however, is the notion of the BlackBerry platform staging a comeback, but the company needs to act quickly, choose partners wisely and pray for a lot of luck along the way. Palm was ultimately a success story HP ruined, BlackBerry can be one too but only with a leap of faith.

Go to comments

Guest

February 3, 2013, 4:06 pm

You missed three major factors that will help lead to the success of blackberry 10 that Palm didn't have. 1: carrier support! Palm launched the palm pre with one single US carrier where BlackBerry 10 will launch with the support of over 150! 2: blackberry has Apps! blackberry is launching with over 70,000 apps (100,000 in the US) and is going to continue to aggressively go after developers to quickly grow their selection. 3: Dedicated Secure Network! BlackBerry is the only mobile phone company in the world to have its own network that just happens to me the most secure in the world. Top Business and government clients will stay with blackberry for that reason. To not mention these factors screems of incompetence and perhaps bias. Sales have appeared to be stronger than expected in the UK and pre-orders are very strong in Canada. You will be eating your words and I'm here to remind you that you were wrong even when the evidence clearly pointed in the other direction.

Thomson

February 3, 2013, 9:44 pm

The author's argument seems to go something like this; history always repeats itself and the status quo never changes. That of course is why poor Apple and Google never had a chance to become successful in the mobile market, because Blackberry was already the number one smart phone maker and of course there is no room for competitors once that happened. It's too bad because they probably would have made some really good phones.

josa99

February 4, 2013, 12:42 am

The author is obviously not a high tech person or has the understand of how the BB10 or QNX OS was established. The value of Blackberry is not Z10 or Q10 but the advanced Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), true multitasking, faster brownser ....etc.. Products at its lowest still has 7% market according to your chart. What did Palm have? Why is the U.S. gov't interested in it? Why did the U.S. approved of their system before it was even on the market. The latter is the first in U.S. history.

Steve Brown

Ala Khalil

February 4, 2013, 2:18 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?a...

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE A BLACKBERRY!

Gordon Kelly

February 4, 2013, 2:44 am

I think you're missing the central point so I suggest you re-read it below:

"Of course there are differences. Palm’s period of success was much smaller, occurring arguably from just 2004-2007 so it never reached BlackBerry’s level of sales or became the same pillar to the business community. Palm also fell into heavy debts whereas Blackberry, despite sizable losses, remains debt free. Yet significantly when Palm unveiled WebOS in 2009 it was universally acclaimed and there was a genuine sense of goodwill that people wanted it to succeed.

By contrast the response to the first BlackBerry 10 phone, the BlackBerry Z10, has been muted, acknowledging innovations but sceptical about its potential to attract customers from iOS, Android or even Windows Phone. When WebOS launched in 2009 the smartphone market was still formative enough that a small company might just succeed through innovation alone. Launching in 2013 BlackBerry 10 arrives in a market which saw over 700m smartphone sales in 2012, where 90 per cent of the market is dominated by two players and a third is struggling to gain a foothold despite a turnover of nearly $74 billion and workforce of 94,000 employees."

Gordon Kelly

February 4, 2013, 2:46 am

Obviously.

As above. Repeat.

"Of course there are differences. Palm’s period of success was much smaller, occurring arguably from just 2004-2007 so it never reached BlackBerry’s level of sales or became the same pillar to the business community. Palm also fell into heavy debts whereas Blackberry, despite sizable losses, remains debt free. Yet significantly when Palm unveiled WebOS in 2009 it was universally acclaimed and there was a genuine sense of goodwill that people wanted it to succeed.

By contrast the response to the first BlackBerry 10 phone, the BlackBerry Z10, has been muted, acknowledging innovations but sceptical about its potential to attract customers from iOS, Android or even Windows Phone. When WebOS launched in 2009 the smartphone market was still formative enough that a small company might just succeed through innovation alone. Launching in 2013 BlackBerry 10 arrives in a market which saw over 700m smartphone sales in 2012, where 90 per cent of the market is dominated by two players and a third is struggling to gain a foothold despite a turnover of nearly $74 billion and workforce of 94,000 employees."

Gordon Kelly

February 4, 2013, 2:58 am

1. Carrier support is far from a guarantee of success. Nokia has long had support of all major carries across Europe (BlackBerry's strongest territory) - it did Nokia little good.

2. 70,000 apps is not 'Apps!' when there's no Instagram, Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, Hulu, Google Maps, etc etc. BlackBerry has long admitted it paid the developers to build these apps, that is FINE but it doesn't mean they will receive the same regular attention the iOS and Android apps do unless BB10 takes off. Will BB10 take off? It largely depends on apps. Chicken meet egg.

3. This was specifically mentioned in the piece: "BlackBerry still comes with the added bonus of a place in business infrastructure neither Apple or Google has yet to fully replace."

To ignore these points screams of bias. I suspect you have long owned a BlackBerry and would not like the platform to fail. NEITHER WOULD I, that is *the* point of the feature and I write that hopefully BlackBerry has done enough to save it... but it is my belief licensing is the only hope.

That said I'm happy for you to come back and remind me. I've made a calendar note about this - we'll revisit this comment section in 18 months. How exciting ;)

Gordon Kelly

February 4, 2013, 11:25 am

I feel your pain. Not pleasant viewing.

Charles Szmagara

February 4, 2013, 12:27 pm

This is my personal opinion. Mr. Gordon Kelly is a Blackberry hater. As such he will continue to publish negative articles. It's a shame that he uses trusted reviews for his personal war against BlackBerry. BlackBerry is the future. QNX is way ahead of Android and iOS. Google "Transparent distributed processing ".

Gordon Kelly

February 4, 2013, 1:34 pm

Where to start?
Given this is an article about how BlackBerry may well have demonstrated enough innovation in BB10 to potentially save the company, your verdict is both baffling and nonsensical. My point is I think the company needs to license the OS. If you interpret this as hatred then I fear for your reasoning.

Gordon Kelly

February 4, 2013, 1:38 pm

PS in the interest of full disclosure Charles your Twitter profile says your are an "Avid QNX/BB10 Advocate" and are employed by RIM.

I will follow this up with the company's PR.

Charles Szmagara

February 4, 2013, 9:19 pm

Again, my personal opinion. I love BlackBerries for what they are. For me they are the best communication devices on the market. I have read other comments on your article and I agree with them. As to the article itself, there are some paragraphs that have very little to do with reality. Perhaps this is why I took you for hater. I can see that my very own personal opinion has made you feel uncomfortable. My comments have got nothing to do with my employer.

pgchamberlin

February 5, 2013, 12:07 am

Interesting article. The parallels between Palm and BB are striking, and you're right: why would anyone go out and by a Z10 right now? A business-oriented Samsung BB phone though... Google would be crazy to allow it to happen, because it might just be wonderful. I think BB have a better shot at the smartphone sector than MS in any case.

Gordon Kelly

February 5, 2013, 11:16 am

Negative comments on this and other BlackBerry articles we have recently published are currently under investigation as they are all from newly created profiles that only comment on these stories.

We welcome discussion, not blind accusation. In this case as an employee of BlackBerry (something you chose not to disclose) and self proclaimed "Avid QNX/BB10 Advocate" your comments are inherently linked to your employer. Again this is under investigation.

Brian (doesn't work for RIM)

February 19, 2013, 9:51 am

Sorry, but this is pretty douchey. It reads as "don't like my article? I'm getting you fired!"

ArtyC

February 22, 2013, 1:12 am

It's now been almost two weeks since I bought my first blackberry -- z10 (The interface is clean and fun, and everyone I've shown it too has admired it), and my last phone was a samsung, so take from that what you will. Data point of one, huzzah!

Been following this story for a little while now, and... RIM doesn't have to blow away the competition to survive, it just has to compete well enough to provide an alternative. Enough people just like to switch up their phones from time to time. Simple points like this are what the raving blogosphere forgets too easily. Each day someone tries something new, and each day someone gets their first smartphone. BB survived for years with *growing* subscriber counts despite an aging line of phones. With the new platform (and the economy versions that they're launching later this year) they ought to be able to maintain/grow their position overseas and hopefully take back some share in the U.S.

Licensing the software to the likes of Samsung will certainly help.. but I don't see BB getting bought out - the federal gov and provincial governments in Canada probably wouldn't allow it -- Telecommunications is a sensitive area, and BB is Canada's top firm in R&D spending.

Gordon Kelly

March 1, 2013, 12:37 pm

Far from it.

Guest

July 24, 2014, 12:04 am

Over a year later, everything you've written is true, BB has a new CEO that can barely speak English and has done everything but admit that the company is giving up the consumer arena -- though his actions indicate this is the case.

When you look at the CrackBerry forums, BlackBerry looks more like the Amiga's history repeating: vehement fanboy snobs who believe everyone's just too stupid to realize BlackBerry is the superior platform (or, worse, too stupid to handle BB10) and refuse to acknowledge the repeated failures of management. It's borderline pathetic.

I'd give every toe on my left foot to see BlackBerry return to its former glory. Nothing -- NOTHING -- beats their physical keyboard. But when you couple sexy hardware with an OS that is still user hostile (no, 10.3 didn't fix the issues) and an app ecosystem reminiscent of Ethiopia, why bother?

Gordon Kelly

August 4, 2014, 2:41 pm

Dear Jamie, as promised here I am back 18 months later. I suspect you know by know that I'm not the one who should be eating my words.

As the most recent comment on this article points out almost everything I predicted has happened, including the complete failure of Blackberry hardware since this was published.

Nothing you predicted has happened. Which is a great shame, I have a lot of respect for Blackberry's past achievements.

Gordon Kelly

August 4, 2014, 2:42 pm

Well Charles, history didn't work out so well for you!

comments powered by Disqus