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A Brief Look At the Smartphone Operating Systems and Hardware
Let’s consider the current big players and the hardware they have in the smartphone market (a typical Android vs. iPhone vs. Blackberry from another point of view):
- iOS: iPhone only. Touchscreen.
- Android: Many devices. Touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard devices.
- BlackBerry: Almost all full QWERTY keyboard, except the Storm series.
A simple look at the input types reveals the current trend in the smartphone market: touchscreen devices. Apple started this trend with its iPhone and the competitors followed suit (like all the previous Apple inventions). Now let’s ask ourselves: are we really happy with the touchscreen devices? Do we buy them because it’s the current trend, do we buy them because the latest and greatest devices are touchscreen, or simply because our choices are severely limited by the manufacturers not introducing more physical full QWERTY keyboard devices?
Despite the fact many users like touchscreens, there are also people like me who simply cannot, or at least find it harder, to use a touchscreen device. The tactile feedback felt by the physical keyboard is what some of us prefer, and even the haptic feedback systems built in to the touchscreen devices do not present the same feeling. Plus, many people, like me, find it enormously hard to type on a touchscreen. This also holds true with the iPhone’s virtual keyboard: the correct input rate is much higher in BlackBerry devices than on the iPhone.
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Android on BlackBerry?
Android is open source as we all know, meaning that you can tweak it to be installed on any device including mobile handsets, netbooks and any device that meets Android’s minimum requirements. So there is a very good possibility that it can be modified to run on RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones (I haven’t read RIM’s license agreement so I don’t know the legal implications as Apple has experienced with Psystar case). But let’s consider that it can be done legally, considering the verdict by the U.S. Federal Court (details on Wired) and whisper this possibility to the Android hackers worldwide.
Let’s take a broad overview of the market:
- Nobody purchases a BlackBerry for its operating system.
- The locomotive in RIM’s sales is the models with the physical full QWERTY keyboard.
- The web browser is seriously behind today’s mobile browser standards (they hope to change it with the BlackBerry OS 6 series with the WebKit browser).
- The AppWorld, which today is increasingly the benchmark item in smartphone comparison, is way behind the competition (as of August 2010, there are about 200,000 apps for iPhone in App Store, 100,000 for Android in Android Market and 10,000 for BlackBerry in App World).
- Microsoft has MyPhone service to backup the Windows Mobile phones, Android syncs with the user’s Google account, Apple has MobileMe (albeit non-free) but RIM has nothing except for BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Service) users. If you have a BlackBerry, not associated with your company and you want to back it up wirelessly, you need to turn to 3rd party applications or services.
- RIM is not updating the device specs: the 624 Mhz Marvell CPU is what RIM used in the BlackBerry Bold 9000, released to market in 2008. Two years later, the same processor. Unfortunately the next device in line, BlackBerry Bold 9780 will have the same processor.
You see where this is heading: BlackBerry is falling behind the competition.
Let’s consider a what-if scenario: what if RIM began to use Android on its smartphones? Please have a look at Gartner’s analysis of the smartphone sales to end user by operating system graph. If RIM had started using Android on their handsets by the end of 2009, then Android would have had 35% of the total smartphone operating system market. The developers would seriously consider developing for Android, and iPhone would lose a lot of ground and the dinosaur and out-of-fashion Symbian would be counting down to losing its place to Android. And I believe that the game would change. A lot.
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RIM’s Perspective: Can This Be Done?
My point of view is “why not” rather than “why.” The only reason that BlackBerry is extensively used in the corporate market is the e-mail service (BlackBerry Enterprise Server working together with Microsoft Exchange and other communications/collaboration platforms), the BlackBerry messenger and the security. The e-mail and instant messaging security is provided by encrypting communications with the PIN number that is unique to each and every BlackBerry handset, derived from the handset’s IMEI number. Putting these competitive advantages into perspective, here are my points:
- Neither the BlackBerry e-mail service nor the BlackBerry Messenger, including the security is dependent on the BlackBerry operating system. It will not take too much effort to port the code to another platform.
- RIM already has very good relationships with the carriers around the world. Providing an open software platform for further customization with the reliable messaging and e-mail system would appeal to both corporate and non-corporate users. Non-corporate users are the market segment that RIM is trying to get hold of with its Curve series. With Android, this would be way easier.
- Everyday our business lives are more integrated with our personal lives. Working from home is more common than ever. A corporate BlackBerry brand with thousands of applications readily available for the mobile worker would be a perfect fit (of course, corporations are free to choose which applications they will support on their employees’ smartphones.) Both the corporations and the mobile workers would benefit from this fit.
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What If RIM Continues with BlackBerry OS?
We see clearly that RIM, a seemingly unbeatable giant in the smartphone market a couple of years ago, especially in the corporate market, will be overtaken by Google’s small child Android soon. This is inevitable.
On the financial side RIM shares have been plunging for one year. The graph shows the September 2009 – August 2010 period and the downward trend is obvious. Even the latest handset BlackBerry Torch, which RIM executives call “The Best BlackBerry Ever” did not change the situation. That is also obvious in the July 2010 – August 2010 period when the hype around the BlackBerry Torch was at the highest and the device hit the market.
This decreasing market capitalization will certainly water the mouths of the big guys. I wonder if RIM’s executives are seeing the big picture that they may be acquired by somebody someday with they're lowering market cap. At this point in time, considering Microsoft’s failed attempt on Kin with a full QWERTY keyboard, their ambition to get a hold on the mobile market with Windows Mobile and the BlackBerry’s position, the most probable takeover attempt will come from Microsoft. Based on Gartner’s data, Microsoft is the 5th in the market with 5% share. Taking RIM over will mean 18% + 5%, a total of 23%, which will position them as the 2nd player in the market.
The situation from my point of view is obvious: RIM is failing and it is failing badly. The executives should sit down and make their plans for the future before something bad happens.
Can I use Android on my BlackBerry? You should. Before it’s too late.