Friday, December 30, 2011

Blackberry's future

Regardless of outages and platform problems Blackberry is experiencing, I believe the phone that always tends to win in the long run is the one that wins both with the user interface and durability.  Early on this was Nokia, the user interface was intuitive, steps were thought through to happen in the way people would actually use it.  You make a call, you get an SMS at the same time, the SMS won't stop you from using DTMF tones to navigate your voice mail, when deciding to read the SMS the default options enable you to reply or erase with the easiest to reach button.  This couldn't be said for Ericsson phones at the time, where the steps that I described on the Nokia phone was a pain on the Ericsson.  Durability wise Nokia also won.  I've never had a broken Nokia, I've only had one Ericsson phone and it broke a few times.  I suspect Nokia must have done something similar to what Apple is rumoured to do, have lots of internal designs and prototypes compete it out until they get it right.  Nokia did slip up a couple of times, probably in a rush to market, for example with their first WAP phone and their first megapixel camera phone.  I suspect it's because they made shortcuts with the selection and refinement process.  Unfortunately Nokia got worse at it all, and Apple and Blackberry took over with smartphones.

Blackberry phones did some things good and, until the iPhone, they did them very well on the usability front.  They had a decent battery life, the buttons were good for e-mail, the scroll wheel and later the ball was good for navigation.  The menus weren't cumbersome and quick and easy to navigate.  It still is not bad at those things, probably better than other phones with that.  The user interface is simple but works well with most of the things you want to do with e-mail and things like Facebook.  That said, durability wise I found it to be horrible.  I've had 5 blackberry phones from work, and they were all replacements of phones that has broken while I had it.  Only one of the times it broke was it totally my fault (I dropped it in the toilet), but this is offset by the fact that I rarely used it anyway (I used my personal phone more) and that it was inside of my bag most of the time so not even exposed to the environment.  I am also not counting the times it just had parts swapped out like batteries or the ball.  This was only over a period of 3 years.

In the end the Blackberry seems to lag massively behind on usability that new Android and iOS phones rule now.  Maps are nowhere close to being as good, web browsing is nowhere close, interfacing with these kinds of apps and others are nowhere near.  That said Blackberry phones are still a lot cheaper and it's also lighter on bandwidth so for many that it still makes sense for people to buy them.  I can't comment on the durability of Android based phones, but the iPhone beats the Blackberry, hands down.

Apple always operate in the premium side of the market, so I'm expecting Android offerings to do well in the market below that.  Both in kicking Blackberry butt, and also in converting formerly non-smartphone Nokia users to Android using smartphone users.  Google seems to have copied a lot of Microsoft strategies when it comes to Android, while Microsoft was asleep at the time and didn't even notice their own strategies, so I am not holding my breath for Microsoft to regain much market unless they spend to the scale they did with the Xbox.  I expect Android to do to smartphone competition what Windows did to Novell, OS/2 and many others.  This doesn't mean there won't be a market for Apple products, I believe that Apple will still do well for a while, however there is no Steve Jobs any more but I think the company has one good phone left where he still had a lot of input and they'll work hard to make it good so people still have faith in the company and stick with them until the experience, or cost, starts to suck.

After that, is anyone's guess, but I doubt Blackberry will be one of those unless they have a very good shakeup, a shakeup that Nokia didn't manage to pull off successfully.  I'm not holding my breath.

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