Friday, June 27, 2008

RIM ignores BlackBerry fans at its peril

I’ve been thinking over the last few days about the future of mobile devices, sparked in part by listening to a talk by Klein Gilhousen, one of the founders of Qualcomm (LINK) and the inventor of CDMA cellular technology.

The mobile phone world will soon split along similar lines to the personal computer, dividing those companies able to make a distinction for themselves largely through innovative software and those who make the receptacles for other people's creativity (like Dell in the PC world). The interesting question to me is where RIM, maker of BlackBerry devices, will be positioned. Devices will be iPhones or based on Symbian, Android or Windows Mobile. Will RIM be able to position itself as a second Apple, with a proprietary operating system running on its own hardware? Or will it be overrun by Apple, open source or Microsoft?

I think RIM has a chance. But only if they understand how to engage more closely with their users. Recent indications are not encouraging.

The RIM of today is based on the marriage of a telephony device and a texting device, producing a hybrid of mobile phone and a pager. It was more than a phone but less than a computer. Although RIM has added features and functionality, its devices have remained a combination of telephony and text. Apple changed the game last year by creating a device with genesis in a computer platform, which includes telephony and texting components but only as a subset of a larger offering. And Google and Nokia are trying to change the game further by producing whole new open source software development platforms for mobile computing. What should RIM do about these changes? How should they respond and position themselves?

A device like a BlackBerry, and most especially the iPhone, is now powerful enough to literally become part of us, our electronic extension for storing parts of ourselves and engaging with the world via the device, with our voice and with other data (images, location, text, sound).

RIM was the first company that offered a device that became such a literal part of us. The "crackberry" name applied to obsessive BlackBerry users is an indication of the extent to which users found themselves unable to detach themselves from their devices. The level of intimacy produced between user and device is even greater with the iPhone. With its touchscreen, you literally have to stroke it. But it's also able to become such an intimate extension of ourselves because of the power that a device based on a computing platform gives the user and the intuitive and beautiful interface Apple created.

RIM would have like to maintain their stronghold in the corporate world and relegate the iPhone to a role as a personal, home device. But that Microsoft strategy will be less effective with mobile platforms because of the personal nature of the device. Two devices, one for work and one for home, is much less acceptable when the device is literally an extension of the person. As a consequence, the corporate world has had to begin to adapt to the iPhone and Apple has accommodated. With iPhone 3G and the significant backend offerings targeted to appease corporate IT departments, such as the ability to manage iPhones remotely, Apple will have in the iPhone a crossover device between the personal and the corporate.

For RIM, as for other mobile phone companies, the success of the iPhone has been a stress and challenge. RIM is used to having the lines between the personal and corporate are fairly clean. Now along comes Apple with a single product that live in both worlds but is driven by individual's desires for the device rather than corporate mandate. RIM’s new BlackBerry Bold is an attempt to also create such a crossover device. It will be their top end mobile when it comes out, and therefore is intended to appeal to corporate customers. But it also includes more personal features than previous corporate oriented BlackBerrys, such as a camera and iTunes and video support. RIM may have a device that can approach the appeal of the iPhone. Can it create a marketing strategy to match and effectively engage its customers desire to purchase a new electronic, personal extension?

Apple’s customers are well known for their unusual passion for the company’s products. And Apple knows how to stoke that passion, communicating directly and personally with its users. It's ability to market products is legendary. Despite that BlackBerry users are also highly passionate about their devices, RIM in contrast to Apple seems to hide from its customers. Bloggers have desperately tried to figure out when the new BlackBerry Bold is coming out. Silence from RIM for weeks and then denials. Contrast that to Apple which tells customers when products will launch and then delivers. RIM created a place for the BlackBerry Bold on their website prior to its release (now slated to be August in the United States). But it took the company over a month to make ANY response to those who went to the trouble of entering their e-mail address on the site. And the update that was finally sent was a graphically weak HTML e-mail that merely linked back to the same minimal information that's been online for over a month at RIM, al beit with the slim addition of a poorly produced video that is clearly a mock-up of the user experience rather than the real thing!

Going forward RIM is going to have to understand that the obsession that people still have for its devices is going to be converted over to the iPhone if they don't fix their ability to communicate with their customers (tell us when the damn things are going to be released, for god sakes!) and articulate a vision of the company that recognizes the personal relationship its user base has with its products. On RIM’s website, the Bold has been announced but with a frustratingly small amount of information and images. Meanwhile, pictures of demo copies of the product are scattered throughout the Internet outside of RIM’s control. RIM can’t relax and assume that its extensive corporate infrastructure will protect it forever. RIM has to engage directly with its customers as individuals. It ignores the personal relationship its users have with their BlackBerrys at its peril.

Related references:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Oh, to live in Europe for the cars. Don't even need to drive them.

via Straightline (LINK)

Cars really are the most significant pieces of art that the average of us every buys. Just look as this wonderful little Alfa Romeo. (Turn off your computer speakers--the soundtrack spoils it.) Too cute name though: So cute it even has it's own blog, of sorts (LINK).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Basic comparison: iPhone 2 vs BlackBerrys

Because my brother asked, here's a bit of a rundown of iPhone2 compared to current and expected BlackBerrys (mostly USA relevant). These are the key features that a typical small business user might care about. Kinda sad for a BlackBerry user like me to see. I may still be buying a Bold based solely on the physical keyboard but mmm that iPhone is attractive. Feature I didn't note in the table below is 3G network. Of course the new iPhone and Bold are 3G. I assume the Thunder is not but may correct this--no time to check right now. Yes, you could list other featurs of course, like the big screen on the iPhone, the varying qualities of the respective cameras etc but for me, the features below are the key items for getting work done. (More comprehensive comparisons linked from Fortune, here: LINK)

Apple Blackberry Blackberry Blackberry Blackberry

iPhone2 Thunder Bold Curve Pearl
carrier (AT&T) (Verizon) (AT&T) (Both) (Both)

visual voicemail yes yes no no no
push e-mail yes yes yes yes yes
IMAP e-mail yes no no no no
touchscreeen yes yes no no no
physical keyboard no no yes yes partial
iTunes yes ? sort of, they say no no
GPS yes assume so yes yes yes

mail yes only with server based software (BES--BlackBerry Enterprise Server)
calendar with .Mac only with server based software (BES) OR to Google Calendar
contacts with .Mac only with server based software (BES)
MS Exchange yes yes, but needs BES software on top

applications should be lots and easily installed lots but kind of variable and often annoying to install

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

BlackBerry Bold from AT&T in mid- to late-July?

Post on why RIM is still a "buy", including expectations that BlackBerry Bold will launch sometime in July: LINK.

Location aware task lists for iPhone!

An application from Omni Group for the iPhone shows amazing promise (LINK via the Apple Core LINK). It's a task list that not only will sync to your desktop via .Mac (take THAT BlackBerry) but also has location aware lists! So, if you're near a grocery store, for example, it will create a list of items relevant to that location (and THAT BlackBerry).

RIM's stock was juiced by the success of the BlackBerry Pearl (one of which I just bought, but that's another story). Will the Pearl prove to be a one shot success in the consumer market, much like the RAZR for Motorola? I'd seriously consider a short of RIM stock . . .

Nokia E71 on Nokia USA

Nokia E71 has been launched yesterday on the website (LINK). It's a very pretty phone and successor to the E61. Interesting that there's no mention yet in the E71 specs of e-mail connectivity via Blackberry Connect, as there was with the E61 (LINK). More info at PCMag (LINK) and BoyGenius (LINK).

Brilliant little post from BoyGenius, relevant to my previous comment about Nokia, BlackBerry and marketshare. Just continues to amaze me how far superior Apple's marketing efforts are. That company is run like the fantasy of a tight military ship. From BG (LINK):

We won’t get into this too much, but which would you consider a better way to announce a highly-anticipated handset: “You can get it on July 11 for $199″ or “You can get it sometime in the third quarter for somewhere around $500″? But we digress. Some new live videos are popping up around the internet today from Nokia’s not-so-secret London launch event so if you want some live E66 and E71 action - again - go seek them out. In the meantime, we’re wondering what we should do with our E71? How about a nice “Will it Blend” video? This is what the E71’s market share will look like in the US because Nokia couldn’t get its act together and release it before July… Vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dell abandons Vista?

Maybe this is old news and I haven't had time to check but, friend ordered a Dell with Vista. It arrived yesterday and came with XP loaded and Vista on a disk. Was this a mistake or is Dell ditching Vista pre-installed, even if you ask for it??

Monday, June 16, 2008

BlackBerry at the top of the game . . . and about to fall?

Motley Fool has the most intelligent analysis I've read yet on the upcoming clash between RIM (make of BlackBerry) and Apple (LINK).

One of the points that I hadn't considered was Nokia vs. RIM. Worldwide market share is 40% vs 1%, yet valuation is only $100 billion vs $75 billion. RIM does harvest more revenue per customer, but still, that indicates a lot of room for RIM to fall, or a lot of room for Nokia to rise.

Fool's recommendation is dump RIM and buy Nokia, Apple and Google (for the Android phone platform).

As much as I love my BlackBerry and suspect I'll buy the new BlackBerry Bold, I have to agree. Though as an observer of Nokia mostly in the United States, I can only see their marketing efforts as almost hopeless. They want to launch the new E71 to go up against the Bold and the iPhone, yet they can't even seem to get a carrier to take it on (perhaps At&T).

No one will be able to trump Apple (and perhaps Google) if phone companies like RIM and Nokia don't produce better Web integration through recognizing that their computers are vessels for software, and ultimately software may trump all. This is Google's ace perhaps against Apple. Can they become the Microsoft of the mobile world, providing the software platform for a myriad of players to produce the hardware and software applications and consign Apple to a niche? What opportunity is this for Nokia and RIM? I'm sure they experimenting with Android. Could we see a Nokia or BlackBerry running Android?

Friday, June 13, 2008

BlackBerry Bold live at AT&T? NOT!

Everyone in the blogosphere who is at all a RIM fanboy is talking about how AT&T has gone live with a BlackBerry Bold website page. They have NOT. They've allowed a messed up, partially complete page to exist out the wild for days. Look at this thing (LINK) on the left. The page is a complete mess! The idea that the executives at AT&T would allow what is their most important phone launch to languish for DAYS with an unfinished web . . . I'm speechless. The most junior Internet wannabe mogul working out of his parents' basement would fire himself if he allowed himself to let such a thing out in the wild! Shows the complete and utter chasm between a company like AT&T and Apple. Steve Jobs must be just dieing for the day when he can separate himself from these amateurs! An intern from a community college could do a better job of management.

OK. Correction. The page loads fine in Explorer. But Firefox 3.0 produces the above mess. My comments above still apply.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How Google Maps "My Location" works

If you want to know how Google Maps on a mobile device works, even if you don't have GPS in your device (like iPhone1), there's a new post on one of the Google blogs that explains everything: LINK.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Folder Sharing Options, Mac and PC

There are an increasing number of folder sharing options out there, it seems. And with the announcement yesterday of the new Apple .Me offering, which is launching in July, the opportunities for platform independent computer use increase greatly.

In my opinion, the most significant announcement by Apple yesterday wasn't the iPhone 3Q (aka iPhone2) but .Me. It will allow for wireless syncing of Macs, PCs and iPhones (running 2.0 software). More about that in a subsequent post. For now, here's a quick review of three of the other options available for synchronizing files between computers.

First, the old standby, Groove (LINK). Purchased by Microsoft and now part of the Office suite, it's a program that I use daily but unfortunuately is likely to be eclipsed by other offerings in the future.

Also purchased by Microsoft is FolderShare (LINK). It's been expected for a while that they would be subsumed under the Microsoft Live banner, and indeed they finally have. Their old site interface is gone and a new monicker is attached, "Windows Live FolderShare". Happily, it continues to offer Mac/PC file sharing. It will be interesting whether the .Me offer supplants and supercedes FolderShare.

A new offering, about which I was unfamiliar until today but which just got my attention via a BlackBerry blog is SugarSync (LINK). Also Mac/PC, it's no surprise that they stepped up their campaign after the launch of .Me. Perhaps this is, to some extent, the option for users who don't use iPhones and are still commited to BlackBerry. Haven't used it yet but I'll be taking a look.

Apple .Me is BlackBerry Enterprise Server for the Rest of Us

The new Apple .me application has been dubbed by Apple "Exchange for the rest of us" as in Microsoft Exchange. Launching in mid July, it is aimed at users who have a Mac at home, use an iPhone and have a PC at work and want to sync calendar and contacts between those three platforms. But really it's also "Enterprise Server for the rest of us" as in BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Enterprise Server, if you don't know, is a piece of software that sits on top of an Exchange Server and manages BlackBerrys within the enterprise. It is the only way that you can get wireless sync of calendar and contacts between desktop machines and your BlackBerry.

But with .Me, finally without the use of either Exchange or Blackberry Enterprise Server, you're able to sync your calendar and contacts wirelessly. Not being able to do this with the previous iPhone seemed to me a painful omission. To be able to now accomplish this through a simple web-based system as the link between Macs, PCs and iPhones is a nail in the BlackBerry coffin.

BlackBerry has made a minimal attempt to create a small business (as in really small business) or home version of its Enterprise Server with a product called BlackBerry Unite! (LINK) but it still requires the use of a dedicated, always on desktop machine. And they've only launched it in Spain and Canada (though if you're really tricky you can download the software and apparently it does work on other carriers, outside those two countries). The idea that BlackBerry is requiring small business or home users to set up their own server for the cloud is crazy!

I love my BlackBerry and want to get a BlackBerry Bold but this wireless .Me option sorely tempts me. It should tempt any small business user as well.

"Apple will continue to penetrate the small and medium business market much more heavily and aggressively than it has been able to do so previously with this Exchange integration, but as far as larger enterprise, we still see RIM as the standard,” said Mike Abramsky, an analyst with RBC Dominion Securities." LINK

Sure RIM is the standard for now, but iPhone is going to be a highly effective wedge that will, I suspect, rapidly penetrate upwards, from the sole proprieter and small business user on up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The brilliant Honda diesel I want

Honda is supposed to be introducing their 2.2 liter diesel in 2009, in the Acura TSX of all cars, 50 states legal and without the urea injection system (yes, you heard that right) that cars like Mercedes will require to meet emissions standards. But in Europe you've been able to buy that engine for a while, in a brilliant Honda Civic, unlike any Honda Civic we get here in the United States. Of all the cars in the world I could have, this would be right there at the top of the list.

Looks like a Renault!

There's an amusing take on the car, from last year's Jalopnik (LINK), as well as an article on hypermiling this car and the massive Audi Q7 diesel in which they got 70mpg in the Honda and 35mpg in the Audi. Their point: all the bellyaching from US manufacturers (including Toyota but notably not Honda) that they don't have the technology to get such mileage is complete and utter bs (LINK).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I love the look of an old Miata with the headlights up

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MacBook and cellular modem

I'm sitting here on the train and working on my lovely lovely lovely Lenovo X61s running it's cellular modem. Yes it's bloody expensive, but it's life blood! Worth every drop of the $60 a month I pay. And I'm wondering, WHAT besides Mac OS X does this give up to an Apple MBAir? Nothing. And it's a 4 year old design at least.

Apple HAS to launch a MacBook with built-in cellular modem or at least a slot on June 9. HOW can it be called the Air if it has to use a modem with a dongle??!!