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I Have A BlackBerry Dream – An Open Letter to RIM

subconscious_cropped I have a BlackBerry dream that one day RIM will embrace their consumers and not compromise that relationship with carrier whims. This letter was a long time coming but I finally decided to write it when a few RIM employees mentioned that I have been a bit harsh and negative towards RIM recently. In my defense, this is similar to labeling my mother as negative since she has no mercy in pointing out when I am wrong or straying off what she considers the right path for my success. This is not a fault! It is simply a sign that she cares about my future just like I strongly care about the future of RIM and their ability to continue supplying me with a cutting edge mobile experience.

Dear RIM et al,

Over the past few years you (RIM) have been moving aggressively into the consumer market and have become quite successful in doing so. You had a solid base of push email and devices that “just worked.” Along with this consumer push came new features such as cameras, media players, streaming audio/video, instant messaging, and even Facebook. This slow feature creep has taken BlackBerrys from a simple pager that you have slowly evolved into an uber-PDA that many cannot live without.

When RIM first started there was a definite need for you to woo carriers into selling and supporting your devices. BlackBerrys required extra infrastructure from carriers such as BIS and support for devices that were different from what carriers regularly offered. To do this you did whatever each carriers asked in terms of modifying your devices and systems . You also focused on large businesses during that time and created the BES solution to provide users with mobile calendars and then notes, tasks, and contacts. Improved security was a must as BlackBerrys started being adopted by the government and other protective organizations. This created a niche of BlackBerry users who became dependent on this solution.

Now many years later you have a huge consumer user base that easily rivals your enterprise base and they are clamoring for a change in how RIM does business. Until now you have always put carriers before consumers. Put carrier revenue streams before customer features. Put enterprise customers before regular customers. This has to change. You are no longer a small upstart who needs to bend to every carriers whim. You work with hundreds of carriers around the world who are making TONS of money off your solutions. When carriers like Verizon ask you to disable GPS you HAVE to put consumers before carriers because at the end of the day consumers decide your future not carriers.

The second you started focusing on consumers instead of businesses you were stuck at a crossroads. Consumers are not as interested in security and solutions like BES that cost more than most are willing to pay. You were faced with conflict after conflict when it came to marrying consumer features to the core BlackBerry system. For example, When OS 4.0 came out many users were clamoring for direct TCP or WAP APN connections since carriers were either blocking them or charging per kilobyte for the pleasure of using this service even when they were on an unlimited data plan. BES customers were fine since MDS provided a TCP gateway but consumers were left out in the cold. It took years until carriers changed their tune and opened up TCP to users and it took you even longer to offer BIS-B connections to alleviate some of the need for direct TCP.

There are many more current and historic examples of where carriers, partner relationships, and enterprise customers were placed before consumers. Here are a few notable ones:

IM Clients: When you first released the amazing Google Talk, AIM, WLM, Yahoo Messenger, and ICQ clients they did not work on many carriers. Not because of technical reasons but rather because you gave carriers the option of which clients to support and provide. WHY? Any other third party developer could have released these clients without getting carrier approval so why didn’t you do the same? Instead of pushing out the service books yourself you gave carriers control over a feature that customers wanted for no reason other than putting carriers whims and revenue streams before consumers.

OS Upgrades: Every current BlackBerry OS release needs to be approved by each carrier individually before they release it. This requirement is nonsense. It could be that carriers need to approve the radio module but the rest of the OS has nothing to do with the carrier. It has become laughable that users have to resort to leaked OS version or even another carriers OS version since it takes months if not years for a carrier to release an update. I always wonder how Apple manages to update the OS of every iPhone worldwide in one day while RIM is forced to do it piecemeal. This would be like getting an ISP’s approval for every Windows Update package.

Wireless OS Upgrades: I was super excited when you released the ability to do a wireless upgrade but once again this was hobbled to only allow you to install a carriers approved OS on top of that same carriers previous approved OS. This is such a laughable restriction that I do not know one person who has actually bothered using it.

Outages: A large portion of your userbase are now consumers. They depend on your service 24 hours a day every day. Is there any reason they should be treated like second class citizens compared to enterprise customers? Why do we need to resort to mailing lists to get any confirmation on when there is an outage? Do consumers not deserve an SLA or at the very least an explanation and apology?

PIM Sync (calendar/contacts/memos/etc): BES has long been the leader when it comes to synching your calendar, contacts, and other PIM over the air. It does this beautifully but it costs a pretty penny for companies. This also puts it out of the reach of most consumers who would have to pay about $10 for a BES plan and then another $10-15 a month for an enterprise BlackBerry plan. That means that PIM sync would cost a consumer about $20-25 more a month.

Five years ago that was fine since most users were not expecting PIM sync. Now almost EVERY smartphone has ActiveSync support which allows users to sync their PIM FREE! It almost feels like you are holding out on this feature just to differentiate consumers from BES users. Google Contacts Sync in 2.8 might remediate this fault to some extent but still we are missing calendar, notes, and tasks sync at the very least along with any Exchange support.

App World: This one just amazes me. The whole purpose of the BlackBerry App World was to help users discover new applications ESPECIALLY new users. With that said I cannot believe that not one BlackBerry actually ships or plans to ship with App World installed. That means that new users will have no way to discover the application that will help them discover other BlackBerry applications. All the while carriers are pushing out 10-20 Spam homescreen icons trying to upsell everything from ringtones to mobile TV.

BlackBerry Internet Service: One thing has always bothered me about BIS. Why do you have to have a different account for every carrier? I have had BlackBerrys on all 4 big US carriers and have an account on all of them. Why? Is it really that hard to associate my device with the carrier network it is registered to? This presents a big problem for me when I move my device from one carrier to another since there is no way to disassociate my PIN and IMEI from one carrier to another without entering in a new one. I have had to spend over 10+ hours with customer service resetting this association in the past. This is all due to the lack of a simple feature. The ability to delete your account and the ability to reset a PIN and IMEI associated with that account. The only reason I can think of why this has not been implemented is because it makes it easier to switch carriers…

Security: Consumers do care about security but they usually care more about functionality. This paranoid security is brilliant for businesses but there are countless consumer features that are hobbled by such restrictions. For example, there is no way to record a call on your BlackBerry. My old Nokia 3650 had this feature years ago. It could be that you do not want to create such an application since it may be used to break the law but you have also stopped any developer from being able to create such an application. There is also a annoying restriction on being able to record sound while playing back sound at the same time. The BlackBerry is obviously capable of doing this in a phone call but you have not released any API’s to do this since it may lead to VOIP. Once again carriers before consumers. Other security features such as input injection being disabled while in a holster are also frustrating for consumers. This means that applications that change your profile or do anything similar cannot work while holstered or sometimes even locked. I understand how this may be necessary for some businesses but there is no way to turn it off!

With that all said this brings me back to the point of this article. There are countless cases that I can rattle off the top of my head detailing how you have let carriers dilute your relationship with consumers. It is time you realize that you are the one who has the upper hand in this carrier-manufacturer relationship. Take a page out of Apple’s book and use that clout to create the best possible user experience to which nobody else compares. You still have the lead in the smartphone race but the competition is starting to catch up and even surpass you in terms of consumer experience in certain areas. You need to re-assume the innovative role where the competition is copying you instead of vise-versa.

I beg of you to act now and become the consumer evangelist you must become to truly bring us the best mobile experience.

PS: It may help if you started listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” lyrics as a inspirational mantra but I digress.

17 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. I am with you on this one.

  2. You have to wonder how much “carrier is our customer” holds RIM growth back? Or conversely, is it BECAUSE of this that they have the success they do?
    I dint KNOW which is correct, but RIM’s only token consumer support is quite frustrating and I echo every complaint you have Ronen.

  3. Bravo! RIM needs tough love, not just people who compliment it while it stumbles into the grave. I also like how u mention the app store not being put on the phones by default. Instead of thinking ahead of the curve (no pun intended) they have fallen behind their nemisis, Apple.

  4. Wow! What a great expose. You listed restrictions and shortcomings that had not even occurred to me. I can only imagine what you could say about Apple…

  5. It should also be mentioned that some blackberry OS things never change. All OS’s 4.5 and lower are still limited to one alarm instance… we have to resort to buying 3rd party apps that do what my 6 year old Samsung dumb phone could do.

    • @DavidB Good point but I doubt the carriers are helping since they just want to monetize everything.
      @Tim Doesnt it amaze you how the small bugs never get fixed? For example try typing in a form in the browser in OS 4.5-4.6. The text will not wrap. This is such a stupid bug but it will only be fixed in OS 4.7+.

      @All I am not saying that I am giving up on RIM but they are starting to look like Nokia. Nokia used to make great phones with great reception. Now their smartphones like the N97 are full of bugs and cost upwards of $700. I am afraid that RIM is just leaving things status quo. They have been doing their best to steer themselves back on course but I am not sure if it is enough. Hopefully OS 5.0 will be a step in the right direction.

  6. Right on. I use my Storm for both business and as a consumer, that makes me a ‘Bizumer’ I suppose. As a former Apple employee, I understand the importance of consumer awareness. What Rim has done is unacceptable. The fact that I have to continually spend time updating or repairing my device because the carrier has no clue how to help, and Rim wants money to fix what they caused is ludicrous. I have been through 4 Storms since the December launch and still do not trust the device to work reliably. Spontaneous reboots, lost calls, lost emails, freezes, lockups you name it Rim provides it across the smartphone platform. I am ashamed to admit how many hours I have consumed with this device. i actually received a factory replacement the other day that had third party apps still installed from the previous owner! When I called my carrier’s tech support line I was told that if I want the device to work, wipe it and install one of the beta or leaked OS’s.
    How confidence inspiring. The ONLY reason I still have the Blackberry is because i have 5 phones with my carrier and am locked into them for at least 12 months. Then I will end my relationship with them and move on to ATT and purchase an iPhone. Though the thought turn my stomach, and I am loathe to support a company rife with internal corruption and political infighting I NEED a working smartphone solution. I am self-employed and struggling to get on my feet. The smartphone is invaluable to me. sadly however, I don’t think anyone is listening, especially Rim.

    Pity too, the Storm is an incredible device and capable of burying the iPhone. I just can no risk losing business because my smartphone acts so idiotic.

  7. I agree totally. I love my Storm but I seriously question some of the choices RIM made and it’s quite obvious that they were made to satisfy Verizon. It’s unfortunate that pleas like this will fall upon deaf ears because RIM feels that what has worked in the past will continue to work. As consumers we can best make our voices heard by talking with our money. I can’t say that I won’t purchase another BlackBerry but I can say that it won’t be a clear cut case of BlackBerry or bust when I buy a new phone.

  8. Gmail push to the Gmail app could be great as well..

  9. I agree 100%. RIM is big enough now to call the shots over the carriers. VZW is the worst but slowly getting better.

  10. I’d like to add the option to have the device time update automatically when you travel juts like everyone other celphone on the planet. I’d also like to have the option to NOT have the calendar update appointment when you change time zones.

  11. Thanky you – hopefully some rim-guys are reading it and starting to act and – as you said – move on to become “the leader” again…. 🙂

  12. I agree 100%. I used to be able to call myself a diehard Blackberry fan but now I’ve been looking at apple more and more. Its just rediculous how long they are taking to implement features that consumers have been asking for for years. Its like RIM is just struggling to keep up now. How the hell did they let this happen and more importantly, how long will it continue. I mean its just agrivating. COME ON ALREADY !!!!!

  13. Maybe they are focusing too much on hardware and not software. I got my Pearl almost 2 years ago and since then there have been 6 or 7 new models come out. It seems like the various BB websights are always full of articles about the next BB model but there is little movement on the software improvement front. Perhaps this is because RIM has to spend so much time tweaking the OS for each carrier. I mean look at how they number the various OS flavours;,,,, it’s just to much. No computer company has to have so much variation in their OS and RIM should look to streamlining theirs and spend the savings on improvements.

  14. Well said Ronen.

  15. I agree with you on this wholeheartedly Ronen. One thing I want to add that is missing is the fact that there is not a single true VOIP application on the Blackberries. All solutions rely on one way or another initiating a call through your carrier. They had the means, when they had SIP based 7270, but other that that phone, no other device has seen it. And I believe they don’t let third party developers either, that’s why we are yet to see apps like Skype on a Blackberry.

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