BlackBerry's latest offering, the PlayBook tablet, is being slammed by critics; its parent company, RIM, is crashing on the stock market. But where has it all gone wrong? We take a look.
For a while, BlackBerry had the world at its feet. Every City buffoon who thought that Gordon Gekko was some sort of role model had to have at least two. Students wrote badly punctuated essays on them. An infinitely serious future of people tapping away on tiny keyboards loomed. But in recent months it's all gone a bit wrong for BlackBerry, as its share prices tumble and its latest hardware is panned by reviewers. So what were BlackBerry's biggest mistakes?
The BlackBerry PlayBook? Come on, you're BlackBerry. You're not about "play". You're about WORK. You're about eighteen-hour days in your 35th-floor office in the Gherkin. You're about terse little emails saying "But what about the quarterlies?". You're about not seeing your family for weeks at a time, about children who can't remember what you look like, about a computer-screen tan, about constructive-dismissal lawsuits and golden handshakes and non-disclosure agreements. You are never - never - going to be about playing Grand Theft Auto in a darkened room while your fourth decade slips away aimlessly (Sony) or pretending to work on the script for a sitcom while you actually check Twitter (Apple). Don't pretend to be what you're not. Also, stop capitalising every B you can see; it gets tiresome.
Only room for one fruit-based tech company in the market
Wasn't that a strategic error - naming yourself BlackBerry? I mean, there's already Apple. Apple and BlackBerry sounds like a crumble recipe. You had a whole universe of objects to name yourself after, without even getting into abstract concept-nouns: why not move away from fruit? Why not call yourself Pumice or Linoleum or Baobab or something that isn't a fruit? Well, you didn't. And now you're the second-best fruit-based smartphone on the market. You could have ruled the world of volcanic-rock-based smartphones. An opportunity missed.
Good Lord. BUTTONS. How awfully last-century. Or even the century before. Typewriters had BUTTONS. BUTTONS that go CLICK! I mean it's just not acceptable, in this age of gleaming glass-fronted Space Odyssey monoliths which we laughingly call "phones". Even Nokia, a phone company which had its last good idea in 2006, has moved beyond buttons. Deep in the Amazon basin, uncontacted by any outsiders since the Mayans ran the continent, there are tribes who, when presented with a BlackBerry, ask: "Why the buttons? My sodding blowpipe has a touch-screen nowadays."
You're a serious-minded company for serious-minded people. Your target demographic wears patent leather shoes and reads the Financial Times. You can't be expected to keep up with all the disgusting slang for sexual practices that gets bandied around by foul-minded teens. But surely a company that creates web-browsing machines and emails and so on must have at least looked at the internet once, yes? Surely? Yet it seems that BlackBerry, or at least their parent company Research In Motion (RIM), have not. That is the only possible explanation for the HR department at said company calling their employment website RIM.jobs. If you don't know why that's rude, look it up on Urban Dictionary; this is a family newspaper.
The rise of the slack-jeaned entrepeneur
Look at Steve Jobs. He's one of the richest men in the world. Do you think he's ever starched his collar? Do you? Do you think he even really knows what a pinstripe is? And that man-child off Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. When he's not wrestling his dinner to the floor and killing it with his bare hands, for which you presumably need special clothing, he's wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or a daft grey university hoodie, like one of the tourists wandering around Oxford quadrangles looking confused. The ultra-rich don't wear Alexander Amosu suits any more, they wear the same threadbare, unwashed jumpers they slouched around campus in when they were 20. The day of the Porsche-driving American Psycho Master of the Universe is over, and he took his BlackBerry with him. Now is the age of the acne-ridden geek with the fear of girls but the obsession with shiny hardware. And Google and Apple's hardware is shinier, these days, than the BlackBerry.