As 2011 winds down, it’s time we start thinking about BlackBerry in 2012. Unfortunately, we have a lot of time to do that. In the first half of the year the biggest thing we have is the PlayBook 2.0 release. New smartphones won’t drop until the second half. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’ll be on a brand new platform, one that RIM thinks can turn the BlackBerry back into a force among the consumer market. Since we have plenty of time between now and then, here are four bits of unsolicited advice for RIM as they create the new line of BlackBerry 10 devices.
1. Deliver something Android and iPhone don’t
The first bit of advice might be the most difficult to execute. It’s not enough at this point for the BlackBerry to play catch-up with iPhone and Android. While a device at or slightly below the level of those devices could help RIM win some new customers, it won’t dramatically shift the market. The iPhone and Android devices have enough market hype that another brand will have to leapfrog them in order to make a real impact.
The problem is that both Apple and Android keep upping the stakes with every release. Apple in particular is adept at adding a new, unique feature with its iPhone releases. With the rumor of an iPhone 5 in 2012, they could even further shift the market. That will make things more difficult for sure. But it also means that there are things that RIM can do to help position itself as a true competitor. It will take some imagination an ingenuity, but they can create a unique feature that will draw users.
What type of feature can they add? If it were easy to figure out, everyone would be doing it. They already have BBM as a selling point. Now it’s time to add something else that will make people flock to the BlackBerry.
2. Include basic functions
This might seem simple, but it’s something that the BlackBerry has not done in the past. Apps might be fun and great, but they have a time and place. With the BlackBerry it seems that too many apps perform functions that the BlackBerry should do out of the box. If RIM wants to make its new line of devices succeed, it needs to think of all these features and ensure that they are included natively.
There is an indication that this is a possibility. In their latest operating system they added a number of these features. Most notably, they allowed the ability to add a new number to an existing contact. That’s a basic function, but previously it wasn’t available without an app. Third party developers might enjoy the lack of these native functions, since they can profit a bit off them. But RIM has to make sure that they have all these features out of the box.
Here’s a short list of simple features currently lacking from the BlackBerry:
- The ability to take screenshots
- Editing the original message in forwards and replies
- Custom LED notifications
- Save sent messages to a folder
- Monitor data usage
Again, this is just a sampling of the opportunities RIM has with the new BlackBerry. The more of these features it includes without the need of apps, the better.
3. Make us forget the old BlackBerry
The third item might not be as difficult to execute as the first, but it might be the most important. In our current consumer environment, branding is everything. People recognize brands, and when they create a negative association with a brand it can prove damaging. The BlackBerry brand has been damaged in the past few years, and the new line of smartphones will have to start the repairing process. The most effective way to do this will be to make us forget that the old BlackBerry models ever existed.
In many ways this will take care of itself. The first new BlackBerry device will be a full-touchscreen one, which is not what people think about when they think of the BlackBerry. Sure, there was the Storm, but that was something completely different. There is also the more recent BlackBerry Torch 9850, but few people have experienced RIM’s first fully capacitive touchscreen device. The first BlackBerry 10 release will also feature bezel gestures, just like the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. That is, it will be, out of the box, completely different than previous BlackBerry models.
This will be of even greater importance when RIM eventually releases a new BlackBerry with a QWERTY keyboard. It will look the same as the typical BlackBerry, but RIM has to do whatever it takes to make people forget that the old devices exist. These are the new ones. They’re not just the future. They’re the present. Only by erasing the negative associations people have with the BlackBerry can they make a breakthrough in the market.
4. Give us real names
One of the most frustrating aspects of the BlackBerry is the naming system. RIM has simply refused to ditch its old, inefficient naming system. That might have worked when there were only a few BlackBerry models in production. But a numbering system just doesn’t work when there are multiple devices on multiple carriers. It’s confusing and boring at the same time.
Take the Bold 9900 for example. In production it was called the BlackBerry Montana. That’s a decent name. It might not be the best on the market, but it’s distinctive. Yet on the market the Bold 9900 is 1) the name of an already-existing BlackBerry device, 2) a set of numbers that are meaningless to the average consumer, and 3) one of two identical devices. That is, the Bold 9930 and the Bold 9900 are the same exact thing, but with different cellular technology (GSM and CDMA). One of the most frustrating questions I get is one where someone describes their device as a BlackBerry Bold. Which one?
There are plenty of other factors in the success of the next BlackBerry line. These are just four suggestions that can get the ball rolling. If RIM can accomplish this, and then some, they have a chance to reclaim their place in the smartphone market.