How often do you see someone using a BlackBerry smartphone nowadays? Not very often, right? Once the industry leader, BlackBerry lost most of its market share in less than a decade. The company today is just a ghost of its own past. It lost the battle to the iPhone and numerous Android alternatives.
Physical keyboard is nice—and also impractical
The physical QWERTY keyboard has long been the flagship feature of BlackBerry smartphones. The ability to type without ever looking at the keyboard appealed to many (and still does). Besides, many liked the feel of keys under their fingers.
But then was the iPhone.
Surprisingly, it turned out that the on-screen keyboard can be as quick as the physical one. Plus, you can hide it when there’s no need to type.
In my experience, people (me, included) are so used to touchscreen keyboards today they type notes and messages much faster with them, rather than with physical keys.
Yet, there is a much bigger problem.
BlackBerry OS is irrelevant
If you look at the mobile operating system market, you’ll notice that BlackBerry OS was one the last warriors standing against those behemoths, iOS and Android.
After years of waiting, app developers started leaving the stagnating platform one by one, making the native app store (called BlackBerry World) looking more like a desert. And the Android app store run by Amazon, brought to the OS later, only made the things messier.
In my vision, BlackBerry stopped paying enough attention to its platform long ago. At the time when Apple and Google were super busy implementing new features for users and providing new APIs for developers, the Canadian guys just sat back and relaxed. I think BlackBerry management team neglected the moment when basic calling and texting stopped being enough even for its core users—businessmen and government officials.
Although BlackBerry has always claimed to be privacy-oriented, the company failed even in that. BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)—the default messaging app built into the OS—scored only one point out of seven in EFF’s Secure Messaging Scorecard. (In comparison, iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal scored five, six, and seven points, respectively.)
The Android chapter of the saga
One of the recent moves taken by BlackBerry’s senior management in order to get the company back on track was the switch to Android from the slowly-dying BlackBerry OS. I would like to think that this switch is going to help the struggling company.
But there is one more thing. BlackBerry smartphones are expensive. The company aims its devices to take up competition on the premium market. The market that is already divided between the iPhone and a few high-end Android handsets (first of all, the Galaxy—unless it explodes). The market which does not leave a chance to mistakes.
In my opinion, it would be more reasonable for BlackBerry to have its approach to phone-making first tested on the mid-range market. It’s far safer for consumers to experiment with and test drive smartphones that cost around $349, than those selling for $700.
BlackBerry has been slowly dying since the introduction of the iPhone ten years ago. While Apple made its smartphone more powerful, secure, and easy-to-use, BlackBerry was stuck with hardware that is expensive and the operating system that feels inferior compared to iOS and Android.
The future of the company is closely tied to Android and mid-level segment of the market. Without getting its phones to as many hands as possible (in order to simply grow the customer base), BlackBerry is destined to live the same life Nokia lives now—the life that’s only contents are memories of the greater past.