Last week I wrote a column about the highs and lows that BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion (RIM) is going through at the moment and it would appear that some of the BlackBerry fanboys in the forums took offence to my take on the state of the smartphone market.
I was going to leave it alone, but then I was watching the Twitter feed from the Tech4Africa conference, where Justin Spratt, from Internet Solutions, was quoted as saying that by the end of next year BlackBerry will be in steep decline. I apologise to Justin if that is not exactly what he said, but it was tweeted by enough people that it should be close enough.
His argument seems to be that RIM are focussed on keeping the carriers happy and going forward it is much more important to keep the customers happy.
I don’t disagree with him, but I think that the fundamental flaw in the BlackBerry business model revolves around two issues.
The first of these, and the one that most people in the forums seemed to bring up, is the way that BlackBerry services are packaged. You pay a fixed fee for all the mail and internet access you can use on a monthly basis. For South Africans, who are used to paying through the nose for web access, this is a brilliant offer. No massive data bills and simple setup makes for a compelling offering. However, assuming that data costs are going to remain high indefinitely is a dangerous mistake to make. There will come a point when the lure of prettier and better handsets will overcome the attraction of fixed cost internet and email.
With Cell C and Telkom set to make waves in the mobile field it is likely that the one area that they might target is giving smartphone users a better deal in terms of voice and data bundles than they currently get.
The second issue that I have with BlackBerry is a direct consequence of the first. Because all communications to and from a BlackBerry user has to pass through a BlackBerry server, either controlled by RIM itself or by a company. For most consumers (not corporates) this means that there is not only a single point of failure for their email and internet access, but also a really attractive target for government snoops to use to intercept conversations.
Corporate types with their own servers are better off, but not everyone can afford to run their own server. So the majority of people will be feeding their information through a server that government spooks can get access to, if the government of the country you are in demands that RIM hands over the keys to the house.
Based on recent events, it would appear that RIM is not willing to lose markets in order to protect its users. If that is not worrisome then I am not sure what is. And I am not even a privacy fanatic.
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