Archive for Crackberries

One Tiny Thing About Blackberry

It was almost three years ago that the fine folks in Waterloo decided to open up the Blackberry Messenger platform to other mobile OS players. At the time I wondered what the possible business model was going to be once the dust settled. There were three more-or-less realistic ideas on the table, none of them particularly enticing but at least legitimate possibilities.

Extortive offer to rid BBM of annoying ads.Well. Talk about blindsided … the real answer is “none of the above”, a.k.a. junking up the user experience with ads and then trying to extort users to pay a monthly fee to get rid of them. This is usually the playground of skeezy copy-and-paste game publishers, not legitimate and established technology companies.

It’s unseeming at best. Amateurish at worst. And downright embarrassing either way.


Late To The Party. Again.

Hey! Look at our new phones!  Hello?  Anyone?In just three short days Blackberry will debut their last-ditch effort to get back into the handset wars … a nicely designed, extremely capable, and surprisingly modern product called the Passport.

Three short days.

Or, to look at it another way, five days after ten million people went out and spent their money on something else.

Perhaps Blackberry sees no pressing need to try and attract up to ten million customers with an attractive new product that has been ready to go – yet inexplicably kept under wraps – for the past month. Or perhaps they really have no clue.

Ten million. Zero clue. You do the math.

Blackberry Passport – September 24

The gang up in Waterloo sent out this cryptic invitation yesterday:

event-three-up-1Very secret. Very mysterious. What could it mean?

It means the launch of the Blackberry Passport, that’s what it means. Make no mistake – the Passport appears to be an extremely nice device. If you are well and truly welded to the idea of a physical keyboard, then this is about the absolute best solution for a pocket computer that will still let developers and users offer up a proper touch-screen experience. It might be a tad too large for easy one-handed use, a bit too wide and pointy to be pocketable, but those are quibbles. This is a solid piece of hardware.

Blackberry PassportIn fact, if Blackberry hadn’t been rendered moribund by short-sighted stubbornness at the top (I’m lookin’ at you, Mike) and this phone had been released 4 years ago, there is a very good chance that Blackberry might still be a relevant player in the mobile devices game. Even now, this might have a decent impact … but not if it gets lost in the shuffle of big releases from Samsung and Apple in the first half of the month.

So why the secrecy? You want people thinking about and talking about this device now. You want people interested in trying (and buying!) this device before the new new handsets from the biggest two players in the game hit the stores … it almost seems that Blackberry has given up on anyone who has moved to another platform, and is content to target their existing users.

Memo To The Waterloo Posse: When your pool of existing users is in the shrinking single-digit percentage of the market, that might not be the greatest strategy. You need to make noise about this, and you need to make it now.

Astroturfing for BBM

You may remember that Blackberry’s first attempt to get BBM into the rest of the handset world turned into a bit of disaster. Sadly, it only took two days for the second attempt to also go badly, badly wrong.

Someone has been astroturfing the Android marketplaces with thousands of cut-and-paste “reviews” of the product. All positive, all with exactly the same wording. Some, apparently, complete with extra text from the original messages instructing the users how to paste the fake reviews online.


I like to think that at the corporate level Blackberry honestly has nothing to do with this – this sort of sleaze is usually reserved for unsavoury companies like Samsung and Rogers and The Toronto Star – but there have been incidents in the past where an eager staffer up in Waterloo does something on their own that comes back to haunt the company.

Blackberry is officially denying any involvement, but this still ends up as a black eye for the company at a time when it is pretty much the last thing they need.

NOTE: The iOS App Store is free from these so far, but that is not a real surprise: Marketplace scams are far more common in the Android world, and there are both an automated and human-level review processes attached to the iOS store designed to catch duplicate reviews for exactly this reason. I’ve heard from a couple of people in the know, however, that there have been no similar reviews submitted to the iOS store, at least not yet. That makes it almost certain that this is something that comes from outside of Blackberry and the company has nothing to do with it. Sadly, however, they are the ones getting tarred and feathered here. They deserve better.

Cross-Platform BBM Released. For Reals!

One month after the abortive – and quickly cancelled – “launch” of the cross-platform version of Blackberry Messenger, the folks in Waterloo have given it another try. And this time it actually works! Of course, if you didn’t sign up before today you won’t be able to sign in … and there is no actual word from Blackberry on how long you will have to wait. If you signed up already, you got the download link via email. For everyone else, this is where you can grab it, but you won’t be able to use it. Yet.

As for the app itself, it seems to have almost nothing in common with the disaster version that was prematurely ejaculated to the world last month. In fact, it’s very much like Blackberry 10: Unspectacular, a bit sluggish, but generally competent and would have been just fine as a release in 2009. Now? It just feels a bit … dated. But, oddly enough, not as dated as the BB10 OS, which is both interesting (to me) and troubling (for Blackberry). Why doesn’t BB10 have at least this level of polish?

Blackberry’s “Open Letter”

You probably read the “open letter” from the folks up in Waterloo this week. And after you were done laughing, you went on with your daily whatever. Not so over at Maclean’s, though. Scott Feschuk decided to channel his Inner Gruber and read between the lines. Kudos.

Interestingly, one of the cornerstones of Blackberry’s “not dead yet” message is that lots and lots of people on other platforms want to get on Blackberry Messenger whenever it is actually announced. Which means … what? With no possible monetization, the only possible goal here is to somehow slow the defection of existing users. And if simply slowing down the tide of lost business is now the centerpiece of your business strategy, well, yikes. With a capital “Y”.

(Thanks to Smartie Red for the tip!)

Blackberry: The Last Missed Opportunity

Over the next 48 hours there will be a lot of talk about the faded fortunes and inevitable demise of Blackberry (neé Research In Motion). Between the company being forced to kneel at the financial confessional today and the insider’s look back that will appear in the Globe And Mail tomorrow (hot tip: it features actual interviews with both Mike Lazaridis and Slippery Jim Balsillie, and you definitely want to read it) the amount of grist that will be fed into this particular mill will be astounding.

I haven’t seen the actual copy yet, but if Mike and Jim do anything but accept full and utter blame for all of this they are being either completely disingenuous or – even at this late date – they still don’t have even the barest understanding of what is going on. Either way, these aren’t guys I would trust to run a lemonade stand at this point, because the actual history is pretty clear:

2007 – Apple releases the iPhone, but anyone with even the tiniest shred of comprehension realizes that the “phone” part of this is just a smokescreen. This is really the first decently-powerful and pleasant-to-use pocket-sized computer, and the “phone” is really just another app. But by positioning it as a phone, Apple has a lever into familiar consumer ground and avoids the “tech shock” that can stall a truly disruptive new product. Every other handset maker in the world saw immediately what was happening and trashed their existing “smart” phones and replaced them with iPhone copies based on Android … every manufacturer except one. The management cabal at Blackberry’s head said “Apps, schmapps. What people want is a phone that can do email, period. Apple’s phone is pretty but ours does email better, so we will win.” At this point they set in stone what was going to be the corporate mantra for the next 6 years: Our way is the best way. Customers who want something else are wrong.

2008 – Along comes the Apple app store. Now your pocket computer doesn’t just do mail, web, messaging, weather, news (and of course, phone), it does … well, everything. If you can imagine it, there is an app for it. Now consuming, interacting with, and creating data on a pocket computer is even easier, since a one-purpose tool is almost always better than a “one interface fits all” solution. Developers flock to the new marketplace, users download and purchase apps at an astounding rate, iPhone sales grow exponentially … and Blackberry poo-poos the whole concept. All you need is a browser, they say (clever failing to see that even if that was true, their browser is a piece of unusable shit) and this app thing is just a fad. Remember: Our way is the best way. Customers who want something else are wrong.

2010 – Apple releases the iPad. With people now used to a decent mobile OS, the next step is to use it to the tablet (or compact computer) from being “something that you read the paper with on the can” to “a hand-held computing device that will suffice for a lot of people’s every day data tasks”. All of the other manufacturers again follow suit, quickly making Android-based iPad knockoffs. All except one, of course. Blackberry delays and waffles and when they do finally release a tablet, its essentially just an external display for an existing Blackberry handset. Because a tablet couldn’t possibly be anything useful unless there was a Blackberry to go with it, right? Repeat the mantra: Our way is the best way. Customers who want something else are wrong.

2010 – Blackberry acquires QNX. Okay, now we are getting somewhere. Having finally seen that a smartphone must now be a full-fledged pocket computer and have a proper touch-screen operating system, Blackberry goes out and buys a company that makes an excellent mobile OS. But do they use the already excellent QNX platform to reimagine and possibly recharge the dying Blackberry lineup? No, of course not. Instead they gut and cripple the QNX stuff – adding over a year to the development time and release dates of their “last ditch” handsets – to make it more “Blackberry-like”. Why? Repeat after me … our way is the best way. Customers who want something else are wrong.

And yet, despite more than five years of absolute bungling by the “we know better than you” draconian top-level of management, there was still a chance to right the ship as late as January of this year. Really. Blackberry had an ace in the hole … but they never played it. In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that they never even knew that they held the card. Because while the marketing people focused on things that every other handset both already had and did better – the application switcher, the hub, the “flow” – they completely ignored something that would have set them apart from everyone else and could have made the Blackberry experience a superior one for a lot of people: A fully curated app store.

Built For Blackberry Splash ScreenEveryone knows that app stores on all of the mobile ecosystems are loaded with reams of unusable crap. Having to navigate the minefield of useless, knockoff, or outright sleazy apps is a pain in the ass on iOS and an absolute crapshoot on Android. If Blackberry had taken the initiative and offered up an app store where every product is vetted for quality, honestly, and user experience they would have had something that no other ecosystem could touch. They even had the groundwork in place for this with the excellent “Built For Blackberry” program – all they had to do was make this the only way to get apps into the store, instead of a specialized extra.

So did they grab this unique opportunity and run with it? No, of course not. Instead they ignored their own app and developer ecosystem to the point where the “Blackberry World” store is far and away the worst app store on the planet … and when you are competing with the giant steaming pile of malware and useless crap that makes up the average Android marketplace, that is saying a lot. Instead of the promise and prestige and user satisfaction of the world’s only fully curated application ecosystem, they are left with a store where almost a third of the apps available are useless crap from a single developer, and the Windows Live Messenger app is still listed on the “Most Popular Apps” page, five full months after Microsoft pulled the plug on the actual service.

Windows Live Messenger for BlackberrySomewhere the crew that was running the “Build For Blackberry” program must be chewing on their fists. Even if no one else did, they must have realized the potential there … but that would be potential based on extending and expanding on the capabilities of the handsets, and for the Powers That Be at Blackberry, that’s a non-starter. Why? Because Blackberries are perfect when they come out of the box. Who cares about apps? Or developers? Or the app store experience? Who cares that it looks like almost 40 percent of all handsets shipped this quarter are either unsold or returned by unhappy owners? What do they know?

Our way is the best way. Customers who want something else are wrong.

T-Mobile Pulls The Plug On Blackberry

T-Mobile announced yesterday that they will no longer stock Blackberry handsets in their stores. This could have been worse – if AT&T or Verizon makes this announcment it truly is game over – but it’s certainly not good.


Blackberry Q10: Now What?

The Blackberry Q10 was supposed to be the product that got Blackberry back into the market, and bought them enough time to wean their “core audience” over to proper smartphones. The one-two punch of a traditional keyboard-based featurephone combined with access to all the shiny new things an actual smartphone can do was going to be the magic bullet that righted the ship, evened the keel, and got the company sailing back into the marketplace.

And yes, that was quite the tortured nautical reference, thank you.

Anecdotal evidence, however, points to not only shitty sales but suggests that the people who actually did buy these things are returning them in droves. Why? Because they don’t work. Check out this blog from a long-time Blackberry user and admitted fan. He wanted a Q10. He wanted to love the Q10. Instead he is bitter, frustrated, and angry. Very, very angry.

Screen shot from tumblr blog of a Q10 user.

These are not my words. They are the words of a long-time Blackberry user and fan. Ouch.

So now what? Fast forward to September 27th. That’s when the mucky-mucks at Blackberry will trot out their quarterly results and it will be wildly interesting to see if they try and candy-coat the performance of the Q10. In the past (and like every other company that isn’t called “Apple”) RIM/Blackberry has always given numbers for “units shipped”, not “units sold”. But that all went to hell in a hand basket with the Playbook, because people finally realized that “units shipped” doesn’t mean shit if those units just sit in the back rooms at Best Buy until they are quietly returned to the company unsold and written off for staggering losses.

The shipped-versus-sold cat is out of the bag and it’s not going back in there any time soon. If things have well and truly changed at Blackberry, they will come out and call a spade a spade and admit that the product is a disaster, it hasn’t sold, and they need to make some big changes, and fast. Even better, someone will address – and dole out some responsibility and/or blame for – the interesting juxtaposition of 250 product testers being laid off just as you release a product that obviously hasn’t been tested. But if it’s still business-as-usual at RIM they will talk around this, throw out some numbers meant to pacify instead of inform, and everything goes back to square one. Again.

September 27th is three short weeks away. Does Blackberry finally change and try and move forward? Or does the inertia of the old guard just keep pushing them down the same path to eventual irrelevance and oblivion? The failure of the Q10 has Blackberry at the final crossroads. The last question is … which road will they take?

Cross-Platform BBM Beta Testing

The first invites have gone out to participate in beta testing for the long-awaited (but probably far too late) cross-platform versions of BlackBerry Messenger. The invites are only for registered members of the “Beta Zone” but it might not be too late to throw your hat into the ring – I’m told that not all of the invites have gone out as of yet so now would be the time to sign up if you have any interest. Interestingly, despite owning iOS devices, I got an invite to test the Android beta. I guess it’s the thought that counts.