I spent most of this week at Blackberry Live and couldn't help but wonder just how badly the smartphone got off track when everyone got so excited about the iPhone and smartphones switched from primarily being a business tool to an iPod with phone capabilities.
Traveling drives this point home for me. After years of refusing to get rid of a 14-inch notebook and often carrying 17-inch notebooks because I need a big screen to work effectively, I've recently been carrying a variety of 11-inch hybrid devices that, though fantastic for taking notes, truly suck when it comes to actually writing something. While the devices I carry are certainly trendy, I have a far harder time getting things done—and I don't see that as a real step in the right direction.
Blackberry Live drove home the point that shifting the emphasis of phones from productivity to entertainment was stupid. We should have ignored the siren song of an iPod with a built-in phone.
Don't Be Distracted by Shiny Objects
Perhaps the best analogy is looking at the person you want to marry vs. the person you should marry. I see often with young people as well as CEOs, both of whom are all too willing to choose a partner based on looks, not personal compatibility and find it to be a rather unpleasant experience in the long run. Someone who's more aligned with your interests will be a better long-term asset and partner as you drift through life.
The point is, we're easily distracted with shiny things. Steve Jobs was an expert at showing us shiny things to get excited. There's no doubt that the iPhone remains one of the most beautiful products on the market—but it's far from the most practical, as products that focus on beauty tend to be. It's relatively fragile (you're a fool if you don't put it in a case), expensive (often costing more than twice as much as the next phone), attractive to thieves and insecure.
The iPhone is one of the best-designed consumer entertainment products every created—but that wasn't why we originally bought a smartphone.
Bringing the Smartphone Back to Basics
The original goal of the smartphone—whether it was the Palm Treo, the original Microsoft Phone or the BlackBerry—was to blend the PDA, two-way pager and phone into a single productivity-focused product. A single device that fit in your pocket or purse held your contacts, email, calendar and, in the case of the BlackBerry, a two-way pager.
The two-way pager feature was actually important, since you could quickly receive and respond to an alert. This made the Blackberry Messaging Service even more powerful than iTunes on Apple devices; BlackBerry Messenger provided core value for the smartphone, while iTunes was developed more for connected media players.
Those old smartphones devices were secure (they had to be, since they contained business data), functional (the Palm Treo was pretty ugly, but it had amazing battery life) and robust (a drop that will crack an iPhone screen did little, if any, damage to one of those old devices). While Apple views a broken phone as a revenue opportunity, business-to-business vendors view them as a problem to be avoided, since revenue depends on the business user remaining in service. This was emphasized this week when another user sued Apple for producing an excessively fragile phone.
A company selling to consumers can cover up these types of problems or chalk them up to built-in obsolescence. (It probably shouldn't, though.) However, this is suicide for a B2B company, as businesses will blacklist a firm it catches doing this and they will talk to other business users. Treat a business customer badly and you'll likely find no one willing to buy your products.
Blackberry Is Better Business Phone
The Department of Defense trials of Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices also drove this home for me. Government agencies are under a ton of pressure and oversight. Buying phones that favor entertainment would likely be career suicide for most bureaucrats, which is why they favor the business-focused BlackBerry.
Since LG and Samsung are moving to market solutions that mirror BlackBerry's protected work partitioning, I believe these solutions should be favored over others. In the end, though, there's only one platform designed to be dependable for business: BlackBerry.
If the goal of your smartphone deployment is to give employees a dependable device, then take a cue from the DoD and place the BlackBerry high on the list. Your job might actually depend on this phone, and no cool app, game or movie will mitigate that one Blackberry advantage.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.