It’s not impossible to build a better iPhone, hell Apple has done it themselves five times (the iPhone Steve Jobs first showed didn’t actually work making that first success easier than you’d think). The thing is did they really? Or did they just convince us that the changes made between versions make the phone better. (Check out this Jimmy Kimmel bit). Often it wasn’t, the iPhone 4 for instance had serious antenna problems, the iPhone 3 would cook through a battery in a couple of hours and, compared to the iPhone 1, later iPhones (except for the 5) were often kind of chubby.
If we went to something else like cars, there were the 70s and much of the 80s, where they seemed to get worse. Who in their right mind would trade a 1960s era Mustang for a 70s or 80s car? They were just crap but people “upgraded” because the car makers convinced them the changes were for the better. (Watching the car auctions this week where some of those 1960’s cars sold for over a hundred grand, I’m betting a lot of folks regret moving to the later models).
Currently, Samsung seems to be convincing some people they have a better iPhone 5 than Apple does, so could RIM have a better iPhone 6? Maybe.
Getting Around the Lock
Unlike cars where it is pretty easy to move from brand to brand, once you are tied into any of the platforms you are tied to a set of services. iTunes has weakened over the years as Amazon, Google, and third party services like Slacker (my own favorite) have taken hold, but as music and other media have dropped off, apps have taken hold and getting around not having an app you really want is touch for Windows Phone users and Blackberry 10 users will have the same problem.
However, Nokia showcased that you could do a better job with some core apps like navigation which were broken or sub-standard on the iPhone and you could stand out with some key features like a better camera and inductive charging (which is truly magical).
Clearly, Apple lovers won’t switch even if the Blackberry 10 completely eclipsed the iPhone 5 (almost impossible) but if Blackberry has a few features/apps that folks really want and this is enough to get them to overlook the Apple apps the platform doesn’t have they’ll have a shot.
This is particularly tough when coming from Apple because of the Apple stores and the Genus bar. However, stores like Best Buy have been improving their in store help and Apple has been losing genus bar members largely because of a combination of things, they underpay them and they’ve been laying them off. That means the staffing levels and quality of this service should be dropping off or being taken for granted which means if the stores that sell Blackberrys improve their service, folks buy from carrier stores (which often favor anything but the iPhone), or they buy online they should be able to come close the customer experience they would have gotten from Apple, in fact depending on how much cutting has gone on in their local Apple store, their experience could even be better with the Blackberry 10.
Now all RIM has to do is to get people to believe their service is as good as Apples and often, particularly when the iPhone isn’t coming from an Apple store or a poorly staffed one, it might actually be better. Apple is vulnerable, but people lock down on the way they remember an experience which can be better or worse than it is today and old experiences were likely pretty good. To slip in here RIM needs to update potential buyers so they see the Apple post all of the staffing changes not the Apple that they fondly remember from the Steve Jobs years. Samsung is on an anti-Apple tear so they could dovetail Samsung’s messaging.
I can recall Steve Jobs going on about how Apple had figured out how to do Active Sync right in MobileMe and I’m kind of surprised, given what a pile of crap that service was, more users didn’t bail back then. For an Exchange user (and this is still the dominant email platform) native Active Sync support is a requirement and with all of the malware floating around folks are becoming increasingly concerned about having their personal information stolen, their phone turned into a zombie, or have someone fire up their camera or microphone at odd times to spy on them (all of which apparently is happening to some folks, mostly in Asia).
Finally, the Blackberry has always been a better phone/communications device than the iPhone. Apple was better for entertainment but for those things we used to actually buy a communications device for the Blackberry used to be superior. If RIM can recapture this impression they may be able to pull an upset.
There are clearly a lot of folks, many who use the iPhone, which could be convinced to try something else. These are the folks Samsung has been targeting with their ad campaigns. If RIM can convince these less than loyal potential Apple buyers that RIM is the better choice by showcasing the Blackberry’s advantages and get people to ignore or devalue the Blackberry’s shortcomings they could pull an upset on Apple. The same is true of Samsung and Nokia both of whom appear to be already executing this plan.
Post Jobs Apple is clearly vulnerable, we’ll know in a few weeks just how much if RIM executes sharply. There are a lot of companies in this hunt though, as I’m finishing this up China’s Huawei passed both RIM and Nokia in Smartphone sales showing that growing really fast in this market is still possible, and that standing still isn’t an option for anyone. Can RIM eclipse a weakened Apple, sure, will they, we’ll know in a few weeks the odds are long but not impossible.
Maybe your next iPhone will be a Blackberry, it’ll be interesting to see what RIM announces this week.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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