Blackberry: The artist formally known as…


It is the year 2007. CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer is asked in an interview what he thinks about the Apple iPhone, which had just been revealed by Steve Jobs a few weeks before. Ballmer immediately starts to laugh – in the exaggerated way he was known for – and replies that the phone will fail because it’s way too expensive and it is not appealing to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Almost exactly 6 years on, Steve Ballmer has just delivered his last and emotional company speech before his retirement from Microsoft, this time just a few weeks after Apple took first place in Interbrands global brand ranking, surpassing Google and Coca Cola as the world’s most valuable brand (Microsoft is ranked at number 5).

A lot has changed in between 2007 and 2013 – smartphones are now tightly integrated into our personal lives, while Microsoft is trying to shake off old structures (and staff) and Blackberry is as good as gone from the field of big technology player (Stock price for Blackberry lost 80% from 2009 to 2013). Surprisingly though, a lot of companies still equip their staff with Blackberry phones or other outdated technology – perhaps more due to cost or existing deals made across company networks. In the past, mobile phones as big as a brick were reserved to top managers and the financial sector equipped their offices with computers long before anyone else did. And even when the personal computer and the mobile became mainstream in the 90´s, technological progress was not so great that it completely outdated existing work equipment.

However, as technology became cheaper, more accessible and versatile, it started to infiltrate the business world. Once upon a time, Blackberry conquered the business market (20 % market share of mobile phones in 2009) with mobile E-Mail machines, with complete internal and external business processes were handled by complex software applications like Oracle or SAP. However, then the iPhone came. The touch-based smartphone wasn’t just a hardware revolution; it was a complete innovator in software usage. Instead of people just using a few heavy programs for multiple purposes, users could have lots of small applications, allowing for better multi-tasking and more focus on individual tasks and problems. In a cultural way, it helped us to become more social on a technical level because it strengthened and diversified connectivity. Applications for smartphones in return encouraged developers to improve web based applications for desktop PC and so one.

Surprisingly though, most of these advantages didn’t find their way into business life at first. A Blackberry device still remained the number one business phone – and Blackberry made a mistake by resting on this fact. SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Office and so one were so tightly woven into many companies’ processes that executives initially didn’t find the courage to replace them with innovative web applications. Especially since many long term contracts with few soft- and hardware developers cut off many companies from the possibilities offered to them in a constantly changing market.

Nevertheless, back in 2013, many companies and individuals have caught up with the changes initiated by Apple. In particular, innovation and technological capabilities have meant a breakdown of barriers between our private and work lives, meaning that a phone which is designed purely for work and not for play, no longer applies. This fact alone could perhaps be a death sentence for Blackberry, but so far it has been a good thing in the advertising industry, making it somewhat easier to reach consumers through increasingly clever mobile targeting.

For an example of how companies are innovating and choosing to create their own operating systems rather than outsourcing, we just need to look internally here at PHD. PHDThinkTank already discussed in a recent article (Gamification: Why it can work everwhere) the Omnicom office software Source and how it adds gamification and socializing to software designed for the workplace. For all Source users at PHD worldwide, it means a lot more fun and productivity working around new media ideas and connecting easily on a global level. In the end, it will also result in better solutions for clients and their media investments. Looking across the communications industry, internal systems such as these are becoming increasingly popular and helpful for finding new formats and advertising ideas.

Nevertheless, Blackberry did try to challenge their image. Yet they failed as while their communication changed, their products did not. To be succinct, they failed to deliver ‘the next big thing’. New product launches in 2013, as the Blackberry Z10, where decent smartphones but weren’t able to convince Apple and Android users. The return rate of Blackberrys new models hit almost 50 % of their sold devices and now the companies’ last chance is to find a strong investor. Coming full circle, to Steve Ballmer’s final speech, he ended by saying defiantly that Microsoft will deliver the next big thing this time. However, leaving the stage accompanied by the song I´ve had the time of my life from Dirty Dancing, we personally weren’t sure what to think.



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