The first time I visited the United States, I was quite taken aback with the extent of BlackBerry usage. Business users mostly used RIM devices or the first iPhone which was just launched at that time. Here in Europe, BlackBerry was not a common sight: most frequently spotted smartphones were Nokias and – just like in America – the first and exceptionally trendy Apple device.
Years later, the situation with Nokias changed, of course, but BlackBerrys still do not hold the sort of market share as they do on the North American continent. RIM’s platform is considered too geekish, and there’s a belief that above-average technical literacy is required in order to use a BlackBerry. Despite this, nearly everyone who has one of these smartphones is unbelievably loyal to the brand and satisfied to such an extent that they do not even bother with trying another type of device.
That Was Then, This Is Now
This was the case until last week, anyway. Things are different now. In just three days, RIM managed to make its users in Europe (as well as the Far East, Africa and some other zones) seriously think about leaving BlackBerrys and start using iPhones or other smartphones with Android or Windows Phone.
The reason for this, now familiar even to those who do not use a BlackBerry, is that this device could not be used for three days in the whole of Europe, as well as many other parts of the world, for the fundamental purpose the users purchased it in the first place – email exchange. Web browsing, BBM chat, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc. were also out of reach. RIM experienced a major system failure in its operational center near London, and a backup solution for such a scenario did not work. Panic-stricken, the company could not rectify the error for three days, and were seriously late regarding the PR crisis, pacing suddenly but swiftly towards business demise in the already challenging European market.
This is a cardinal and practically suicidal mistake for RIM: losing its greatest advantage over their rivals in these three days – unopposed trust of their users. Up to last week, Apple, Google and Microsoft could only dream of providing iPhone, Android and Mango users with the same sense of loyalty that BlackBerry enjoyed.
A great many of those who tried a BlackBerry, even though they found it a rather geekish platform with an unintuitive user interface, were immediately hooked on the unbelievable elegance with which the device managed emails on the go. Let me state it flatly: there is no iPhone, Android, Mango or Bada device that sends and receives emails with such ease, simplicity and delight as the BlackBerry.
There are plenty of reasons: BlackBerrys have a fantastic physical keyboard. In addition, European carriers offer favorable flat data plans which are unavailable with other smartphones. Many carriers even offer attractive “roaming” data plans to BlackBerry users, which is a precious advantage on a continent with so many countries and so many carriers.
Finally, the most important reason is that they have a software system that other platforms lack, and provides BlackBerry users with a “real” email push.
Indeed, email exchange systems on iOS, Android and Windows Phone progressed with time, but exceptionally loyal BlackBerry users have not, and they felt right not to try them out. They were forced to do so this week, and quite a large amount will stick with a different platform after this fiasco – it does not take a Nostradamus to predict this.
Bad for BlackBerry, Good for iPhone
This incident occurred at the worst possible moment for RIM, as well as the best possible for Apple, which has just launched its iPhone 4S, the day after the outage was finally cleared up. Steve Jobs’ demise has additionally emphasized interest for iPhone in the media and, as a result, it was the first device that enraged BlackBerry users thought about when they were forced to consider other mobile Internet usage options.
These are the days when anything by Apple is celebrated, and when a trend of honoring the Apple creator by purchasing the company’s products has become a trend, including the people who have never used them before. Thus, the BlackBerry user exodus will mostly be directed at the latest iPhone.
Apart from BlackBerry owners, such an outage enraged carriers as well, because users hold them responsible for the fact that their devices were reduced to Nokia 1110 last week, even though they had nothing to do with it. It is clear that the carriers will suffer financial losses due to the outage – not only because BlackBerry users did not generate any data traffic for three days, but also because they will have to offer some type of compensation for service down time. Some carriers have already announced they will deflate BlackBerry users’ bills this month and it is natural to expect that they will forward the invoice for the outstanding share to RIM, together with a law suit.
At a time when RIM is one of few smartphone manufacturers to record a drop of the market share (especially in Europe) as well as a revenue downfall, such an error in the functioning of a system that the entire company was based on might result in a terminal disaster for BlackBerry.
About Dragan Petric
For the last fifteen years, Dragan Petric (www.draganpetric.com) has been working as an IT journalist, editor and analyst, with special interests in telecommunication technologies and services. In addition, he authored five books and published over 2,500 articles in many magazines and newspapers in Europe. He has attended about 30 telecommunications and IT congresses around the world and won several journalists awards for his work.