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.