Why BlackBerry failed

Although the market rejected his initial touch-screen approach, Mr. Lazaridis believed the four pillars of BlackBerry’s success—good battery life, miserly use of carrier’s spectrum, security and the ability to type—still ruled in the new smartphone world and gave his company its competitive advantage. Two years after Apple’s launch, it still amazed Mr. Lazaridis that iPhone users had to cart around adapters to power up depleted batteries. His early prediction that Apple would cause AT&T headaches by using up its network bandwidth also proved right.

But there was no going back. Apple was setting a new agenda for the wireless industry. RIM, like others, were now followers. “We built a perfectly evolved, optimized service and product offering that made the industry take off,” says Mr. Lazaridis. “There was a point where the carrier, by changing the rules, forced all the other carriers to change the rules eventually. It allowed Apple to reset what the expectations were. Conservation didn’t matter. Battery life didn’t matter. Cost didn’t matter. That’s their genius. We had to respond in a way that was completely different than what people expected.”

More here. What a gold mine.

RIM never had a chance. None of the carriers of the day did. Their whole decision making structure had the wrong focus (efficiency, security) and the wrong view of customers (carriers, enterprise) to compete with Apple.

The lesson I guess is that organizations for the most part cannot change who they are. The article paints an interesting mix of blaming the carriers for changing the rules and yet an implicit buy in to the immorality of those rules.

It’s a very common thing to see things that are perhaps changing about the world and say “no chance!” for no reason other than that real change doesn’t come along all that often. It sure makes me feel smart to play the odds on an uncomfortable new technology, trash it and be right. But let’s be honest, my mental models of all the things I feel like an expert in are just as vulnerable to iPhone style disruption as RIM was.

It doesn’t mean that I should become a fanboy of every new thing either, the constant failure would be exhausting. Rather to be aware. It happens. Be ready, react quickly.

Worst of all, know that incumbents are probably all screwed.

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