What it is: “Losing the Signal” is a book that documents Blackberry’s incredible rise as the smartphone leader, and its dramatic fall as it struggled to compete against the iPhone.
In 2009, Blackberry held half of the smartphone market. Today they hold less than 1 percent of that same smartphone market. What happened?
The answer is easy. Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and from that point on, any smartphone that didn’t offer similar features as the iPhone simply disappeared. Android mimicked the iPhone successfully by offering the same portable computer appeal as the iPhone, but Blackberry (along with Nokia and Windows Mobile) failed. Blackberry initially tired to convince everyone that physical keyboards were crucial. Even Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO at the time, laughed at the iPhone by claiming it wasn’t any good for typing e-mail since it lacked a physical keyboard.
What Blackberry and other smartphone rivals failed to see was that the iPhone’s touch screen interface was far more versatile than a separate keyboard and tiny screen crammed into the small form factor of a mobile phone. Anyone remember physical keyboards that would flip out or slide out so you could type on them?
What’s even more astounding is that after criticizing the iPhone for a lack of a physical keyboard, Blackberry introduced the Storm smartphone with a touch screen interface and (not surprisingly) no physical keyboard. Even more astounding is that Blackberry rushed the Storm to the market, knowing it was faulty. When a company knowingly ships faulty products, how can they expect anything good to happen as a result?
To no one’s surprise, the Blackberry Storm got hammered in early reviews, which drove customers away from Blackberry. When a company loses its customers’ trust, that company will likely never win it back. Blackberry users soon ditched their Blackberries for iPhones and Android phones, and that trend hasn’t let up since.
Blackberry’s biggest mistake was being caught flat-footed when Apple introduced the iPhone. Blackberry’s second biggest mistake was rushing the Storm to market before it was ready in an attempt to offer an iPhone-like experience with the (then) trusted Blackberry name. When you sell a product without regard for your customers, it’s easy to see that your customers will soon switch to your rivals.
To read an except from “Losing the Signal,” click here. Back in 2007, you would be hard pressed to get anyone to consider that Blackberry would soon lose their leadership in the smartphone market and become an also-ran. Yet that’s exactly what happened, and it’s unlikely anyone will start switching back to Blackberry phones any time soon. Blackberry kept trying to chase Apple first with the Storm phone and then with the Playbook tablet, which was also rushed into production and offered a poor user experience.
The lesson of Blackberry is clear. If you want to succeed, don’t do what Blackberry did. Here are their biggest mistakes:
- Blackberry assumed they would always be leaders, so they assumed their existing products just needed minor improvements. The solution to this type of thinking is to always assume everything you’re doing today will get wiped out tomorrow. If Apple had protected the iPod, they never would have bothered creating the iPhone, and someone else would have killed the iPod anyway in the future (and killed Apple in the process).
- When confronted with the iPhone, Blackberry reacted rather than developed a well-thought out plan. They rushed the Storm into customer’s hands before it was ready, which was simply a recipe for disaster.
- When confronted with the iPad, Blackberry also reacted by rushing the Playbook into the market before it was ready, which repeated their recipe for disaster.
- In the face of declining Blackberry sales, Blackberry had no plan other than to keep selling what they had and hoping people would keep buying them. Hope is never a strategy.
Blackberry put themselves in a position to fail by failing to plan ahead. The time to worry is when you become the leader in any market. That’s when you know you have nowhere to go but down.
Could Blackberry’s fate repeat with Apple? Absolutely. Apple is not immune from failing. Look how long Apple clung to digital downloads of audio files through iTunes, only to realize that streaming audio services were killing iTunes music sales. Apple had to spend $3 billion dollars to buy Beats Music to get their streaming music service along with their relationships to artists. Will this Beats Music acquisition save iTunes? Maybe, or maybe not, but it shows that even Apple can be toppled from their leadership position.
What will kill the iPhone won’t be another smartphone. What will kill the iPad won’t be another tablet. What killed iTunes wasn’t another digital audio music store, but something different altogether — streaming audio. What will kill the iPhone and iPad will be something so different than Apple may not recognize the threat until it’s too late, just like Blackberry failed to recognize the iPhone threat until it was too late.
What killed the netbook? It wasn’t another netbook, but the iPad. What killed Blackberry? It wasn’t another smartphone, but the iPhone that was really a portable computer in a smartphone form factor.
Until something comes along that makes people ditch smartphones, the iPhone will be safe (for now). Until something comes along that makes people dump their tablets, the iPad will be safe (for now). Keep your eyes open for what this new product might be. As soon as it appears, that’s the time when Apple will start going downhill like Blackberry.