Someone Like You: An ode to my BlackBerry

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.
I wish nothing but the best for you too.
Don’t forget me, I beg,
I remember, you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.
Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.”
—Adele, “Someone Like You”

I broke it off with the “other woman” last week.  After well more than a decade, our love affair couldn’t withstand newer and better models.  Yes, I’m talking about my BlackBerry.

Adele. Photo via Wikipedia

I must admit I miss her at times.  I miss that keyboard that I had grown so accustomed to over many years.  I miss the little red blinking light that told me I had emails waiting for me.  I miss her longer battery life, the one-click phone calls, and the easy calendar functionality that let me input new events without forcing me into a time-consuming pop-up interface.  I miss the speed of composing a quick email in the elevator.  I even miss Word Mole, that wonderfully simple word game that came loaded with the device.

But as much as I miss her, it was time.  She had let her herself go, to the extreme.  I had been two-timing with an iPhone for a couple years and found myself spending more and more time with a device that did so many things so much better.  When iPhone 5 came out, I cried “uncle.”

I have been thinking about the lessons of BlackBerry’s demise.  If there ever was a fanboy for those devices early on, it was I.  My wife was the one who came up with the “other woman” analogy, and I know there were times when she thought seriously about ending my love affair early on.  Research in Motion should have never lost me as a customer, but it did.  Here are five reasons why.

1. The consumer wins.  It turns out people care more about music and cool apps than email security.  Faced with a classic Innovator’s Dilemma, the leadership of RIM never understood the power of the consumer-friendly iPod and iPhone devices until it was too late.  RIM was busy satisfying the IT organization, its customer; Steve Jobs went straight to the consumer.  Consumers ultimately decided they were going to use these i-devices, with or without IT’s blessing.  We are seeing the consumerization of IT more broadly, and RIM won’t be the last enterprise technology company blindsided by products and services originally intended for a consumer audience.

2. The basic product has to work.  BlackBerry users know what I’m talking about.  The product has gotten worse.  My ringer and speaker phone stopped working.  The operating system was crashing more and more, sometimes right in the middle of a call.  Those kinds of mistakes make it easier to change to a competitor.

Greg Gottesman

3.  Leverage your strengths. I loved that keyboard.  I still do.  I know a keyboard isn’t as cool as a touchscreen, but for an email junkie it’s better.  Instead of leveraging the strength of the keyboard functionality in new, creative ways for business users, BlackBerry made admirable, but sub-optimal attempts to compete on the opponent’s home field.  The end result is a product that has touchscreen functionality slapped on it, but without the touchscreen experience and ecosystem that you get with iPhone, Android or even the Windows Phone.

4. Make it easy for developers to love you.  The brilliance of Apple is not just its great devices, but the app ecosystem it has built around those devices.  Many thousands of developers are working every day to make the iPhone and iPad experience better.  RIM tried to develop an app ecosystem, but developers found it difficult to build on the platform and RIM’s overall execution in this area has been poor at best.  Competing against Apple and Android mano-a-mano is tough enough without their extended family joining the fight.

5. Brand matters.  I can’t tell you how many times someone in the tech community has given me a dirty look after hanging up a call with my BlackBerry: “You still have one of those.”  I would immediately reach into my pocket and pull out my iPhone to try to maintain a shred of credibility.  For those of you more secure in your technology coolness, perhaps the BlackBerry could suffice as a significant other.  But, like many of you, I’m still that kid trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to sit at the cheerleader table at lunch.  Carrying around a BlackBerry is now a liability in our technology community.  That kind of brand impression is hard to change.

Goodbye, BlackBerry.  It’s true, sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.

Editor’s note: Greg Gottesman, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, is launching a new blog at StarkRavingVC. You can follow him on Twitter @greggottesman.  We’re happy to see Greg join the blogging fray, and are excited to publish one of his initial posts here on GeekWire. Welcome, Greg!

  • http://twitter.com/jrrhetoric John Raffetto

    All good points, but I’ll be staying faithful to my Blackberry. It’s my phone, it’s my e-mail, it’s my mapping device. I need it to work all day long without recharging; I need it to not drop calls; I need it to sync with my Outlook without fail; I need it to keep working after it’s been dropped. Hard. I don’t need it to play MP3′s, I don’t need it to help me get Facebook updates. I don’t need it to play games. For me, Blackberry is the perfect mate, and I will love it til death do us part.

  • http://twitter.com/jrrhetoric John Raffetto

    All good points, but I’ll be staying faithful to my Blackberry. It’s my phone, it’s my e-mail, it’s my mapping device. I need it to work all day long without recharging; I need it to not drop calls; I need it to sync with my Outlook without fail; I need it to keep working after it’s been dropped. Hard. I don’t need it to play MP3′s, I don’t need it to help me get Facebook updates. I don’t need it to play games. For me, Blackberry is the perfect mate, and I will love it til death do us part.

  • BenSlivka

    Well said. I got my first BB in 2001, eventually ran BES on my Exchange Server at home, and we were at the peak a 5 Blackberry family. I would still have a Bold 9900, but it had a hardware failure in July, and the new BES Express got “sick”, so I couldn’t “enterprise activate” a replacement. After 2+ weeks with a Samsung GS3 and 4 hours with a Nokia Lumia 900, I switched to an iPhone 4S. White, so that I could hand it down to my daughter (with a 3GS) when the iPhone 5 came out.

  • BenSlivka

    Well said. I got my first BB in 2001, eventually ran BES on my Exchange Server at home, and we were at the peak a 5 Blackberry family. I would still have a Bold 9900, but it had a hardware failure in July, and the new BES Express got “sick”, so I couldn’t “enterprise activate” a replacement. After 2+ weeks with a Samsung GS3 and 4 hours with a Nokia Lumia 900, I switched to an iPhone 4S. White, so that I could hand it down to my daughter (with a 3GS) when the iPhone 5 came out.

  • N8

    I’m not a techie and while I love the keyboard on my BB, it has been BBM keeping me loyal…for now. BB are still a major status symbol to many friends and colleagues internationally and they use BBM a lot. So if I would add a sixth point to your list for mainly domestic users, it would be the loss of critical mass of BBM users. Once a main stay of BB, BBM is now used less and less and thus because more and more useless. RIM forgot that a critical mass of users for BBM brings a lot of value and it has long been called on to create an multi-platform BBM but hasn’t…and now it’s probably too late since many BB users also have installed Whatsapp for all their non-BB friends.

  • Craig Sherman

    Greg, you’ve broken my heart. I’m going to be the last man standing — I won’t give up my keyboard, even though I’m woefully uncool as a result!

  • Matt Wass de Czege

    Wow, I was waiting to get to the comment section to see all the BB bashing and how they are dead. Good to see some faithfuls sticking up for them and that is why they still have a chance to turn things around. I have a lot of faith in BB10 and the power of the QNX OS. If they can get the apps they have a chance. I also love how they are leveraging Gist (Seattle startup). RIM is not the same company they were a year ago and have taken major steps to be more open. Competition is good.

  • Guest

    BlackBerry’s master inbox is a feature I’ve never seen on any other smartphone: all my home e-mail, work e-mail, SMS messages, Twitter messages, and Facebook messages can be shown and alerted at one glance. I can also view just one medium at a time. The clumsy notifications on Android and, later, iOS could be improved vastly by treating them more like inbox items.

    As an unsatisfied Android user for the last 2 years, I often miss the power-user features of my old BlackBerry devices. I miss launching apps with keyboard controls, memorable keyboard shortcuts for everything, and copy-and-paste that actually works. Sure, the service bears a $20/month surcharge, the apps are horrible and the UI has a learning curve, but a fluent user can run rings around any Android or iOS device. One cannot get better at using Android and iOS: one simply learns how to use these devices and then one is made to live with their limitations until his contract expires.

  • Rixter

    For me the quality of the software has really gone down hill. Lots of bugs, new updates with limited downward compatibility, and slow to innovate. Still love that keyboard, for now.

  • Geir Hansen

    Greg, you of all people! I just can’t let her go.

  • Stephen Schramm

    The Blackberry is a business tool that is an extension of Outlook’s functionality and there is no faster or more functional mobile interface. BB user / BES user since 2001. I wish companies that produce business tools would just support businesses and leave the consumers alone. I put Microsoft in that group too.