The BlackBerry's users can still save it. But will RIM let them?

After a decade in which it became a standard fitment in boardrooms and governments, saw it enthused over by a new US President, and singlehandedly turned addictive ‘crackberry’ texting into a social phenomenon, history appears to be turning against the BlackBerry.

Are things really that bad? According to its latest results, despite increased shipments and revenues, profits have dropped nearly 10 percent year-on-year, a warning sign if ever there was one. Apart from its unloved and app-less tablet computer, the PlayBook, the company’s rate of innovation has slowed to a crawl compared to its rivals, Apple, Google and Microsoft.

BlackBerry’s biggest problem is that it is a Mobile 1.0 platform in a world migrating to mobile 2.0 platforms, including Android, Apple’s iPhone and even Microsoft’s reborn Windows Phone. Adding a few tweaks such as promising that the PlayBook will run some Android apps doesn’t obscure that developers are running in the other direction.

For BlackBerry, think tumbleweed.


That leaves it with the single USP that it still offers secure messaging (let’s ignore the deals with Middle-Eastern governments to grab encryption keys in those territories), but that’s purely niche. It doesn't look like enough to save it.

It’s at this point that journalists usually write something positive about any subject they’ve spent the previous several paragraphs being miserable about, but this time I just can’t think of anything uplifting to say about BlackBerry. Depressingly, it’s the Palm situation all over again, an old-timer taking on younger rivals unburdened by technological baggage.

Except this. The heavens brighten and everything becomes clear. The BlackBerry has one thing that even Android has found hard to find and Windows Phone probably never will - loyal users. A subset of people really like the BlackBerry, and not just the corporate folk either. It is the users who can save the BlackBerry if the company can find a way to connect to them and rally them to the cause.

So far, that connection is lacking but don't underestimate it - it is what saved Apple in the dark days of John Sculley.

If it does decline it will be a huge pity because the BlackBerry has charm and quality and it’s not as if the world couldn’t do with more competition to stir up Apple (smug), Google (the geek Big Brother) and that alliance of the desperate, Microsoft (dull) and Nokia (too introverted).

The BlackBerry has some time yet to turn it around if it somehow turns back to the CrackBerry crowd that made it the big survivor of Mobile 1.0. Get moving RIM and reach out to the people and stuff what journalists say.