UPDATE [1/30/2013]: In the below post, from June 2012, the writer argues that the strangest feature of Research in Motion's decline is that ordinary consumers had begun to root against the company. The question: Was that ill will mere fashion, or the symptom of a deeper malaise? Today's reveal of BlackBerry 10--a do-or-die release for RIM--will make clear the company's answer.
Nearly everyone I know hates his BlackBerry. (Mine happens to be a Curve 9360.) I realize hate is a hard word, and one should take care to aim it at the device and not its maker, Research in Motion (RIMM). But the familiarity of our personal technologies makes it hard to look at them coolly. People naturally have strong feelings about the things they carry in their pocket, set on their bed stand, hold in their hands.
As everyone knows, RIM is trudging through its darkest year, one in which it's shed its CEO founders, most of its brand lustre, and 75 percent of its share value. Now, reports the CBC, the company has more than a billion dollars worth of devices gathering dust in warehouses, unwanted. Worse, punishing layoffs--of perhaps a third of its workforce--loom.
As Carmi Levy recently argued, the cuts will be good for RIM. But it's an occasion for solemnity, not satisfaction. Only three years ago the tech star was ascendant. RIM was Canada's most valuable company; with a share price of $150 and market cap of $80 billion, it was worth more than the Royal Bank. It owned more than half of the American consumer smartphone market. It was the first Canadian company to crack the 100 best global brands (#63 in 2009).
The CrackBerry had many friends. Now it has almost none. The most remarkable feature of RIM's decline--other than the gruesomeness of the spectacle--has been the commentary about it. Press reports have ranged from the grim, to the grimly satisfied, to the gleeful. And as RIM has wandered nearer and nearer the brink, the tone has got meaner. The title of a Gizmodo's 108-word review of the latest Curve? A taunt: "Oh dear, the most exciting thing about the new BlackBerry is a dedicated BBM button."
Contrast that with the elegies to Kodak as the film-maker faded into bankruptcy, in January 2012. Even Business Insider, famous for cheap zingers, abstained: "Struggling photo giant Kodak readies for bankruptcy, delisting--stock plunging."
The point is not that writers are mean-spirited and consumers fickle. It's that, somehow, we've all gone from observing RIM's death rattle to rooting for it. Why does everyone want RIM to fail? I offer three possible explanations:
Most marriages to BlackBerry were arranged, not chosen
This has to do with RIM's marketing strategy from its earliest days. Then, BlackBerry's superior security made it appealing to corporate IT heads, government, and the military. The company's consumer marketing was a late developing and confused affair, one the advent of the iPhone only illuminated. The upshot: many who own BlackBerrys might never have bought one on their own.
A BlackBerry makes you feel stupid
It's not a petty point. You register a tiny frustration when you confuse the ALT and SHIFT keys for the thousandth time, when you mistype a message because of your too-big thumbs, when you attempt to insert the charger nib but it's upside down, when the AC prongs fold up into the adapter instead of sticking into the wall. The BlackBerry's device and platform ensure you encounter many such frustrations. Singly, each is forgivable. But over time they collect and harden into resentment.
Apple changed the game
A curious part about the death of Apple (AAPL) founder Steve Jobs was the sorrow ordinary people seemed to feel. Had a titan of American business died, or everyone's favourite uncle? One way to read the outpouring is as a testament to the genius of Apple's design. So seamlessly does iTunes connect you to your music, or iPhone to your friends and photos, that people conflate love of music and family with respect for machine and maker.
Apple made design seamlessness something that consumers expect. RIM never had it. That was fine early in its life--when you bought a phone, it was a given you'd have to spend time bumbling in menus and learning which cartoony icons belonged to Settings, and which to Setup, Wireless, and Media. But no longer. To use a BlackBerry now is to wish the device had a better editor--someone who, by getting rid of the trivia, made your important navigations--you--more efficient and intuitive.