Is BlackBerry Suffering an Identity Crisis?

For the last few years, the BlackBerry has been king of the business smartphones. Even as the iPhone becomes increasingly business friendly, it seems that the majority of pure business users prefer the BlackBerry to any other device. At Intermedia, many more of our hosted Exchange customers synchronize their mail, calendars and contacts to a BlackBerry than they do to an iPhone.

I think BlackBerry’s success in the business market stemmed from the device’s simplicity. Traditionally, BlackBerry smartphones came with a rather limited feature set, but it did them all really well. Wireless push email, phone, calendars, contacts and tasks. That was about it. There weren’t too many games, no music, no videos…just plain old boring business communications. A focus on the core business needs, combined with an emphasis on security and remote provisioning, policy and management all through a connection with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server made the BlackBerry smartphone the ideal business accessory.

Lately, however, I have become increasingly concerned with a lack of focus from RIM. Last year at RIM’s Wireless Enterprise Summit, RIM was clearly suffering iPhone envy, and was hastily responding with the BlackBerry Bold. The Bold was RIM’s first attempt to make the BlackBerry a broad-based device, adding in features like high-definition video that would appeal to a more consumer-oriented audience. The BlackBerry Storm, the first touch screen BlackBerry, is an even more overt response to the iPhone. I could not believe RIM abandoned its industry-leading qwerty and Suretype keypads completely on the Storm.

Last week, RIM unveiled its much awaited Apps Store, which is a catalog of free and for-purchase software that BlackBerry users can browse from their smartphones and then download over the air. I downloaded the Apps Store to my BlackBerry Storm to see what it’s all about. Conceptually, the App Store makes sense. A smartphone should be a platform on which applications can be added on demand to enable customization, without having to use a computer as a conduit. However, the catalog contents really surprised me. I was expecting to see business-centric applications and tools to help road warriors. Instead, I found a bunch of applications fit for college kids hanging out in their student unions. Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and all the consumer IM platforms. Not the productivity tools I was hoping for. Instead of Facebook, I would like to see LinkedIN. Rather than a one-click download of AOL IM, I want a one-click download of Office Communicator, so I can connect to my Office Communications Server from my smartphone.

RIM is trying to make the BlackBerry all things to all users, and I fear they risk making the device a jack of all trades, but a master of none. I am strong believer in the concept that no one device can fit all user profiles. RIM clearly is trying to broaden BlackBerry into the mass market consumer device space and I think this is a big mistake.

Ultimately, I think RIM must realize that iPhone envy shouldn’t lead them to make drastic changes to what they’ve done so well in the past. RIM should have confidence in its leadership as the smartphone maker for the business community and remember that the BlackBerry has different uses and benefits for a different audience than the iPhone does. And as a BlackBerry user, I prefer it that way.

About Robert Leibholz

Robert “Bob” Leibholz oversees Intermedia’s sales and business development activities as well as key partnerships. He is responsible for creating and expanding the company’s channel network to over 4,000 private label partners, as well as the extension of the program to Latin America and inking deals with Fortune 100-ranked Ingram Micro and Dell. He has lead Intermedia’s sales growth to become the industry leader in the business communication space.