Is Blackberry About to Lose Its Most Loyal Fans?

In the bigger scheme of things, the 5 days of Blackberry services outages after years of humming along is not that big a deal. It really is a tiny fraction of running time for a relatively stable system that has been very popular worldwide, but perhaps more significantly, growing in popularity in developing markets. The problem is rather that it could not have come at a worse time for Blackberry.
Blackberry has in recent months (or even years) been facing increasingly stiff competition on the handset front. Sure, their latest phones like the Torch and Bold 9900 are fairly good phones in their own right. But compared to the latest Android superphones and the iPhone, RIM clearly has a few challenging years ahead. When Apple was revolutionizing the mobile industry with a new finger friendly touch interface, RIM was still focussing on things like the loudspeaker’s quality. Different priorities…
But RIM had a plan – their loyal fanbase would stick to Blackberry’s great BIS service, which gives free web surfing and email for only a few dollars a month. And until now that seems to have gone the way they have planned. While first world consumers might have grown tired of the Blackberry handsets, the developing nations in the world have adopted Blackberry in a big way. And it is not the traditional enterprise client base – it is the super connected, price sensitive, social networking younger generation that needs their latest twitter timeline fix in between classes that is going for Blackberry.
So why is everyone so peeved off at RIM? Once again, 5 days is not a big deal. But in a developing world where your Blackberry is not your secondary internet device, BIS’s stability is more critical than ever. If BIS is off, these users do not have access to some other device from which to access the web or their mail. The issue is that cellphone users are less loyal than ever when it comes to their choice of phones. The days of a user sticking to a phone because it is “the phone they know” is done (just look at Nokia’s market share). Also, Blackberry’s current BIS plan is also facing more competition than you think.
Think about it this way – every user has a certain amount of data they use per month. And mobile data in its present form is something that is continually dropping in cost. Right now you pay R59 for BIS, and you have “unlimited” data. But that bundle does not include videos or any streaming content, so it is basically for “unlimited” web browsing and email. What it comes down to is that users are willing to live with an inferior device provided they get a great deal for data.
Right now, if you want standard non-BIS data, you are looking at R49 for 100MB of data (with Vodacom). But you can munch up a 100MB of data in a few minutes on a modern smartphone, sure. But my argument is this – at the current pace of price decreases for mobile data, pretty soon there will be very little reason to go for BIS if you can get plenty of data on a great smartphone. And that smartphone can be anything you like, you do not have to stick to one specific brand. And the ever-hip mobile users will always want the best phone. (And if you think Blackberry still offers a better overall deal than other phones, Marc Forrest did quite a good write-up on this)
And what about the traditional enterprise clients? You know, the real Crackberry Addicts? When it comes to corporate clients, cost becomes less of an issue, and things like manageability, security and user satisfaction become more important. RIM still has a key advantage here as well – nothing really comes close to BES in terms of Mobile Device Management. The other operating systems might say they cater for it, but it nowhere near what RIM is offering right now in its BES and BES Express offerings. But once again, the competition is slowly approaching this stronghold. Apple has recently rolled out their latest Lion Server OS with MDM features built in at a lot lower price than BES, and many third party MDM providers are starting to cater for Android. None of them are close to BES yet, but RIM is surely watching them closely.
The problem is rather that Blackberry might have lost the trust of their most loyal fans. They have tried to make up for their recent blunder by giving away a $100 worth of premium app to any Blackberry user, but new research seems to suggest that RIM might be facing a mass walkout on the platform. According to Enterprise Management Associates*, 30% of large scale customers (in other words the big companies with more than 10,000 users who used Blackberry) are considering moving to another platform for their employee mobile solutions. When asked to rate how happy they are with their mobile phones, only 10% of Blackberry users were “content”. iPhone users were happier, with 44 percent of users being happy.
“We expected to see some market share loss by RIM, but these results were far more dramatic than we could have anticipated” says Steve Brasen, EMA’s managing research director. Enterprises will start seeing Blackberry as a minority OS to support, with users given the freedom to use any phone, as long as it supports the Exchange mail standard.
All of these signs are not great for RIM, but the company is clearly trying its best. It recently announced the shift of their new BBX OS, and the latest Bold 9900 handset is indeed a giant step up from the past (We will give our final opinion once we have reviewed one). But one has to ask – has Blackberry lost the plot?
What is your opinion – has the recent Blackberry outages made you less of a fan?
* Source: Infoworld