The Problem with BlackBerry: still loosing sales to Android

The indications have been there for some time, but the rise and rise of Google’s Android seems to be at the expense of RIM’s BlackBerry. Whilst iPhone sales are slowly increasing, RIM is seeing its market share eroded. In an attempt to bring back their market share the Canadian company announced a number of new handsets (and launched their poorly received Play Book) at BlackBerry World this week. One interesting development was the announcement of an NFC enable BlackBerry Bold for contactless payments and ticketing. At the moment the handset has only been announced for the US users. The potential of NFC is significant and the fact that RIM are early to market in this technology could give them an advantage.

But are these handsets enough to increase BlackBerry’s position in the handset wars? Not according to Wall Street, with analysts predicting that the developments were little more than incremental and did nothing to deal with the underlying problem: good handsets but a poor operating system. The bottom line is that RIM are attempting to play catch-up by adding iPhone-like features. In a time when OS choices are driving smartphone adoption, Wall Street analysts claim that they are not addressing the ‘ineptness’ (as one analyst described it) of their operating system.

Although Blackberry was positioned primarily to the business market, their key success in the last few years has been BBM, their free, built-in messaging product. It has been widely adopted by teenagers in a similar way to the adoption of SMS ten years ago. Unfortunately young people are not the key demographic for success in the market. It’s the 25+ professionals (so, people with money) that are defining the iPhone and Android sales. Getting sales are not just about operating systems and great handsets, these days it’s also about app stores. Apple defined the market, but Android are rapidly catching up with iTunes. They already have more free apps, and the latest predictions show Android Market overtaking Apple’s offering the autumn. Does anyone buy a BlackBerry for the app store? Not very likely.

Mobile Phone Battery Life

Probably the greatest barrier to the development of mobile phones is the battery life. At one point the battery life on the phone was very good – look at the worlds best selling phone, the Nokia 1100. It had 140 hrs of standby time – nearly two weeks. Obviously batteries have not suddenly become weaker, its just that mobile computing power requirements have leapt up.
The current generations of smartphones – iphones and Blackberry’s – all suffer from a relatively short battery life. It is so poor, that when I got a G1, it came with instructions on how to conserve the battery life. They basically admitted that it wasn’t very good. Probably the worst thing is the screen itself, using around a third of the total power, but some apps, video, bluetooth and especially the GPS are all power hungry.
The problem from the point of view of mobile developers, and especially those brands who are looking to enhance their engagement through things like apps is that they assume people will always have enough battery life. Location services for example will assume that your GPS is always on. In reality many of us keep those ‘extras’ turned off to conserve power. So booting up a location app may be something that we think twice about. The experience is no longer seamless.
The good news is that battery life will get better, and hopefully soon. Some scientists for example are looking at ‘air cells’, where good ole, clean air becomes the battery re-agent rather than expensive chemicals. What it also means is that battery life increase by 10 fold. So it will be back to weekly rather than daily charging for smartphone users. The other side of thing is charging time. Rather than hours fully charge a battery, we are looking at seconds to do it.
Sadly, we don’t have it just yet, so all you iphone users will just have to keep running for the power socket!

There is a good article about mobile battery life from the Independent, here