It has been an eventful couple of years for Research in Motion, struggling to turn their declining US market share around. These days it’s hard to find a positive mention of the company. Articles appear at a steady rate in blogs and newspapers slamming the company, their products, and their management — and the stock price is in the toilet. It makes me wonder: Is there a disconnect between perception and reality?
Back in early 2009, I purchased my first smartphone: The Bold 9000. It was the first time a smartphone had really caught my eye. In a short period, BlackBerry had transformed itself, going from producing chunky email pagers to delivering great looking devices. But the product aged quickly. (My main source of dissatisfaction was the web browser, which was slow enough that I avoided using it) With the advent of the retina display, my Bold 9000 looked downright ancient. The Torch product was intriguing, but felt like one step forward where three steps forward were needed. I think everyone can agree, RIM lost ground quickly — they needed a refreshed product with a great screen, a screaming processor, and a beautiful form factor.
When the Bold 9900 was released, it definitely caught my eye, but I work from home these days, so I wasn’t especially motivated to drop $600 on a new phone. That all changed when I ported my iTunes Sync application from PlayBook to BlackBerry phones, and saw the app rocket up to become the #3 app (excluding games) on App World during the holiday season. It brought in an astonishing $7700 in sales the week of Christmas, leaving me dizzy. (Yet more evidence for the skeptic that App World represents a fantastic opportunity for developers) Needless to say, I didn’t have any difficulty justifying the purchase of a 9900 that week.
My device arrived today.
Unpacking the 9900 and setting it up has been a wonderful experience, shattering the perception that RIM’s latest product offering isn’t competitive. The device is gorgeous, especially due to the brushed aluminum band, and how thin it is. If you ask me, it’s as pretty as the iPhone 4. The screen is exactly what I had hoped for: Finally a retina display class screen in a BlackBerry. The UI is both pretty and faithful to the winning BlackBerry design. The processor is indeed screaming, scrolling is buttery smooth, and they nailed the web browser. Even the speakers are fantastic. I was always impressed with my Bold 9000’s speakers, but the 9900’s are noticeably better. The keyboard feels incredible. Again, I was always impressed by my Bold 9000’s keyboard, but somehow RIM has figured out how to raise the bar noticeably higher with the 9900’s keyboard.
As you can tell, I am smitten with my new purchase. The 9900 delivers in every area that I had hoped, and exceeds all of my expectations. If you ask me, RIM has an incredibly competitive product on their hands.
So I circle back to my original question: Perception VS reality. Had I not purchased the 9900, I would have thought, like the rest of the world, that RIM lagged way behind iPhone and Android. Perhaps RIM’s biggest problem, then, is a perception problem. Like they say, perception is reality. Smartphones are increasingly a statement of fashion and brand in the US. Why buy a phone from a company that everyone loves to hate?
No wonder RIM is launching an aggressive marketing campaign. They know all too well how great the 9900 is, and need to get the word out.
The other realization is that, with such a compelling product, the need for a QNX phone is not what it seems. Sure, delivering a QNX superphone will be a boon for the company in certain market segments, but if the perceived reason for rushing a QNX phone to market is that the 9900 is lackluster, then I must say I can’t disagree more.
I want to end on a note of encouragement for Mike and Jim: You guys pulled off an incredible feat with the 9900. It’s a gorgeous, fast, and incredibly usable smartphone, and you can count me in the group of people who feel that it is perhaps the best smartphone in the world today. Keep up the great work, and keep your chin up.