At this week's developer conference in San Francisco, RIM released a slew of exciting new features for the BlackBerry platform: OpenGL ES for games, push messaging to developers, Flash support, and some cool APIs around payments and reverse geocoding.
With BlackBerry competing against iPhone, Android, and Palm, which of these new announcements was an industry first by RIM? Reverse geocoding. Yikes.
Even Apple beat RIM to delivering broadly-available push messaging to delivers. Yes, Apple beat RIM... at push.
Oh, and Apple and Google have both had OpenGL ES since they launched... and, with the App Store, Apple's got payments in the bag.
So, where's RIM sitting then?
- No material improvements to the user experience.
- Despite having bought a WebKit browser company, still no decent browser.
- Despite acquiring Dash Navigation, they aren't close to competing with Android's Google Maps implementation (though, to be fair, *nobody* is).
- Their developer tools are still a far cry from the polished Apple Xcode tools.
On top of all of this, RIM continues to shoehorn new technologies into a dated Java-based OS, while all their competitors are on BSD or Linux. (To be fair, I'll bet the next major BlackBerry OS rev will include a Linux kernel.)
The scary part of this is that RIM's gone from being the market leader and innovator, to continuously playing catchup with the other players in the space. That Apple, Palm, and Google have all built more flexible operating systems, better browsers, and solid multimedia capabilities in the last 2 years, while RIM has struggled to release Storm and Storm 2 is telling.
With Android expected to hit prodigious volumes in the next 2 years, and the growing number of one-way BlackBerry-to-iPhone converts, the BlackBerry platform looks less and less exciting for developers. At a time when each of the major mobile platforms is "good enough" for day to day eMail, SMS and voice, the differentiator is really the app stack and the browser. With RIM falling down on both counts, it really seems like there's less and less upside for developers to focus on BlackBerry, when they could instead be working on their iPhone and Android apps.
So, what's next for RIM?
RIM started out in mobile eMail by building the entire stack themselves, because Palm refused to buy their wireless modem. That's right, Palm could've owned mobile eMail, but RIM ended up building it themselves. They followed a Palm-like strategy of finding exactly the right set of problems to solve, and made the BlackBerry terrific at solving them (talk about a Lean Startup). The problem is that RIM seems to be competing as though the axis' of competition haven't changed: they're still the best at eMail.
But the axis has changed... now it's about the "computer-in-my-pocket"... the web matters, and so do apps. Almost, perhaps, more than eMail.
It seems RIM's next step needs to be a re-invention...
- A new, modern OS
- A browser at parity with everyone else
- Developer tools that are as slick as Apple's
Most of all, all those brilliant folks in Waterloo and Redwood City need to figure out where (besides eMail) RIM's truly going to lead... playing catch-up doesn't appear to be a winning strategy for the company.
It's curious that Palm needed a similar technology/platform/business reinvention, and while Palm's made the leap, it's unclear whether they did it soon enough or not. Will RIM?