Few years ago, a small unknown company named Palm realized that its' legacy mobile operating system is dead. The company, which was one of the founders of the term PDA was caught off-guard. There was nothing to do with the old PalmOne, no way to bring it back to life. It was the end of the game.
Palm had to reinvent itself and as a last, almost suicidal move, the company decided to invest all of its' remaining fund in a pure engineering work, and develop an amazing new mobile OS with some advanced, innovative elements and great technology.
Did it help? No. Sales did not raise, there was no money left.
The company was acquired by HP for its' stylish webOS and huge number of patents…
The Palm brand was no more. It's HP webOS now. In a few years youngsters will not know there was once a great company called Palm.
Same time, different place, stood Palm's sworn enemy for years, Microsoft, facing a similar situation: the company's legacy mobile OS called Windows Mobile was dying.
The enterprise already replaced WinMo in favor of BlackBerry, and consumers realized that nice shell wrappers cannot hide the painful fact that Windows Mobile will never be iPhone.
Microsoft knew something needs to be made but they blinked… they blinked for too long.
They released Windows Mobile 6.5, with some pathetic UI improvements, decided to develop a completely new OS (Windows Mobile 7), stopped the project in the middle, replaced their teams, changed the entire strategy, while doing so – released another minor version of Windows Mobile (6.5.3 – which is a fantastic marketing name as well!), and in order to confuse the audience even more: announced that Windows Mobile is now Windows Embedded Handheld, and at the same time announced they are about to release a new generation of smartphones OS called Windows Phone 7.
This entire process took 2 years, in which Apple's iPhone became dominant, Android gathered strength, and Microsoft lost most of the market share of Windows Mobile.
Now Microsoft needs to start from scratch. Windows Phone 7 is promising, but the software giant is working really hard to find partners (such as Nokia) and build a decent market share.
Enjoying the read? Check out our "History of Smartphones" series:
Fast forward to 2010.
Another sleeping beauty, a company that could be considered as the one who invented the modern smartphone, Research In Motion, is slowly waking up to realize that the BlackBerry OS is dying just like Palm and Windows Mobile did few years ago.
The truth is that this observation is inaccurate: BlackBerry OS is already dead for a quite a while. It's just that RIM failed to see it sooner. During 2009, while the company was busy winning multiple technology awards – the market has changed, and started to move towards iPhone and a year later – Android.
RIM had to make a move back in 2009, but just like Microsoft, instead of throwing away the 10 years legacy system which could never compete with iOS and Android and make a clear cut – the company started tweaking it apart: making it kind of touch friendly, do some minor (and useless) facelifts here and there.
In the hardware side, the company completely lost its' way replacing the quality keyboards and efficient trackball in favor of better looking phones yet much less efficient for productivity.
Fast forward to May, 2011.
RIM is now doing exactly what Microsoft did not too long ago:
- Building a long term strategy with the purchased QNX operating system (the real-time OS which is installed on the BlackBerry PlayBook and is targeted to become RIM's main OS for smartphones as well around 2012) – a bit too late.
- Messing around with some useless short term improvements in the current BlackBerry OS, improvements that for now seems to be minor, but will not be available as an upgrade to all existing models – only in some new upcoming models.
- Confusing the audience: 6.1 is now 7, QNX is BlackBerry Tablet OS, in the future it will be an OS for smartphones… oh well…
Consumers are looking for clean, short, well phrased statements. In other words, messages like Apple is making. I doubt if the latest announcements from RIM will convince more people to purchase current BlackBerry phones. The missing upgrade path will probably do the opposite (why did they bother saying that at this stage anyway? to scare buyers away?).
By 2012, when the new generation BlackBerry smartphones will arrive, RIM's market share will shrink significantly, just like it happened with Microsoft's Windows Mobile.
So RIM seems to be very much like Microsoft, but it's not… Microsoft is a giant, it made agreements with Nokia, Samsung, HTC, LG, it will find ways to promote and strengthen Windows Phone 7.
RIM, to me seems more like Palm, RIP. Hopefully with a better end…
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