Feature Article

February 22, 2012

The Wisdom of Crowds Lost in New Yorker

This week I read James Surowiecki’s article in the New Yorker about RIM. James wrote a good historical piece but for some reason felt that Apple’s success could be accredited to its open system while RIM has a closed system.

First let’s add some more wisdom about smartphone history. It’s not that RIM was a closed system that led to troubles; it was instead the importance of the mobile Web.

RIM had built the perfect device for email; it was as Surowiecki points out “a staple of the business world,” and it made it so that texting was easy for everyone; a keyboard instead of the 12-button keypad was its initial strength.

However, the Web was not easily contained on RIMs screen size and the browser plus navigation was a kludge at best. Though, RIM still deserves more credit than that because of BlackBerry Messenger.

BlackBerry Messenger was (is) the first over the service sanctioned by the carriers where BlackBerry users around the world bypass the carrier’s signaling systems and allow free communication.

Candidly, it still amazes me that the company accomplished this given its carrier customers.

Another place where RIM deserves credit is they built an application layer based on Java. That made for a very secure addition of applications and allowed the enterprise to trust the device was contained; a device that allowed third party applications. However, aggregating them in a store was never a highlight the carriers or the enterprise wanted.

The point is, this was not a closed system, rather it was only part of the Internet. 

Surowiecki is right that RIM’s tight relationship with the enterprise never allowed the company to exploit the opportunity for the market.

Now comes the ultimate revisionist history that somehow Apple has built an open system, which RIM had not done.

Apple brought the mobile web to us better than anyone else and allowed a market to be made of compliant third party applications through its app store.

Apple deserves a tremendous amount of credit for hitting a consumer market that was hungry for the web. As Martin Geddes wrote in his Future of Communications piece this month, “Apple sells a digital lifestyle experience.”

RIM has a lot of catching up to do, but if I were RIM I would see more opportunity. BlackBerry’s Messenger is an app that has not been truly exploited. 

In Miami at ITEXPO and our DevCon5 Conferences, RIM has been giving PlayBooks to developers porting their applications. Candidly, I was looking for the Asterisk community to catch that RIM was a call control partner better than Apple and Android. Those of us who care about call control and communications would have an issue with this. I will remind people that Skype for mobile, the Verizon Wireless/Skype application that allowed for Skype to make your BlackBerry to be an international dialer, has not been replicated in the other versions.

One friend who will remain anonymous (but has been the leading proponent of SIP), has now become such an Apple fan that he no longer looks for an interoperable Internet for call control. Respectfully, I feel that is short sighted. The future of interconnection and over the top has yet to be written. 

And it might be we are overlooking the RIM.

Carl Ford is a partner at Crossfire Media.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca

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