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RIM: Perception VS Reality

Bold 9900

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.

46 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. What will we get with BB10 over the 9900?

    – apps apps and more apps
    – better camera
    – slight better screen
    – 1080p video filming
    – a new UI
    – moderately better performance with the dual core

    Thats it.

    To answer your question. Perception vs Reality.. it depends on how badly you want the above improvements

    For me… I have very little need for more apps than what I have. I am happy with the 9900 camera (except for times when I need the autofocus). I don’t need 1080p, I hardly film with the 720p on the 9900 as it is. The 9900 screen is fantastic and I have not once thought to myself I wish it was better. UI will be slicker, but, in the end I don’t NEED a new UI. Better performance? I have very rarely felt the 9900 needed to be faster.

    So for me. Public perception of Blackberry doesn’t meet MY REALITY.

    But thats me.

  2. The thing the competition does better than RIM is they make you feel like you need their phone or it has features that no other phone has even if its not true. If they had better marketing and showcased their features better I think they would be better off. Right now theyre the uncool device in peoples perceptions.

    I agree with BBA Brian, the public perception of blackberry doesnt meet my reality either. Sure the phones are slightly out of date but its not as bad as people make it out to seem.

    • Deebo bang on.

      Here is a perfect example. My sister. 23 years old.

      She had a 9300 running OS 5 up until last year then switched to iPhone 4

      We were talking over Christmas and she was bashing Blackberry. I asked her what about her iPhone is so much better
      than current OS 7 offerings. She said:

      1. Web browsing is so much better on iPhone
      2. The screen is so nice on the iPhone
      3. The integration with facebook/twitter is better on iPhone.

      Right at that moment I realized my sister was a PERFECT example of RIM’s failure in marketing.

      All of her points are true.. WHEN YOU COMPARE TO OS 5!!!!!!

      We are on OS 7!

      A large percentage of the consumer base thinks about OS 4/5 when they think of Blackberry.

      RIM has not done nearly a good enough job to simply point out

      1. They have a great browser now
      2. The screens are nicer
      3. They are way way way more integrated with social apps on OS 6/7

      • The problem is RIM released the 9300 2 years ago and it doesn’t support the current OS. The iPhone 3gs was release over 2 years ago and it supports the latest iOS. That is my beef with RIM, no long term product support in terms of software. Will there be a OS 8 or BB 10 update for my 9900, I highly doubt it, thats where the problem lies.

        • This happens everywhere in electronics. Have you purchased a Desktop PC or Laptop that ran XP or Vista but not Windows 7? The laptop that I’m currently using (less than a year old) may or may not run Windows 8 or Windows 9… it happens. Am I a little disappointed that my 9900 probably won’t run BB10? Yes… but I bought it anyways because the device works great.. with our without BB10.

          PS.. The Bold 9900, in my opinion, is THE best smartphone out right now… Others may not agree as they may like a touch slab better… but that is the beauty .. you can buy whatever device suits YOUR needs.

      • I agree completely. I have had similar experiences at work. Everyone here has iphones. They mock my blackberry as ancient dead technology. But when i pull out the 9900 and compair it directly to an iphone 4s, they realize their perception of what the modern BB is, is out of whack. Don’t get me wrong, iphone has the developers. I am quite frequently jealous of the new hot shit apps that come out for iOS.

        But at it’s core functions, the new BBs can more than hold their own against all comers. Hopefully RIM can effectively get this message out in the upcoming ad campaign.

  3. here’s another example for you. We went with iPhone 3gs’ at work for our field techs instead of blackberrys. One of the service techs actually wanted a blackberry so I got him one. Well he was complaining that he wanted to switch to an iPhone because his 9700 didnt have a stopwatch app… It took me 30 seconds to show him where the stopwatch was.

    People’s perception is mainly due to misinformation or a lack of information.

    • agreed.

      The Apple UI is very simplistic which has its pros and cons.

      Its easy to find and use certain features, but, for more moderate-advanced users… the UI has its limitations over BB

      I take for granted my ability to use the BB0S and how I understand it so well. I think it can be slightly more intimidating to new users over iOS

      maybe BB10 will make it more approachable

  4. Wow you really have me pumped up, my new 9900 is due to arrive in the next couple of hours or so! :)

    • I got mine last week. I LOVE it, can’t believe i used the 9780 for so long. My only complaint is this is the phone that should have come out a year ago! But at least it’s here now!

  5. you are talking as the Bold 9900 is the best smartphone ever ! I’m sorry it’s NOT !
    I’m one of BlackBerry fans, I LOVE BlackBerry very much and I also like what they did on Bold 9900 but come on guys, since Android was found people were moving to Android now, and in the next days maybe more people will move to windows phone .
    I don’t think Co-CEO are really doing well, they are almost doing the same phones and ideas since 9000 !

    we want to see BB10 coming with BIG difference than all previous BlackBerry OS, with more apps, perfect camera, and dual core processor .

    • Adham. You need to re-read the point of this post and the comments above. The discussion is about Perception vs Reality.

      Clearly in your reality the need for more apps, better camera and dual core is crucial, thus, to you, the public perception of Blackberry is accurate.

      But that is YOUR reality. Not everyone elses

      Sure you are one of a large percentage of the population, but, there is also a large percentage of the population that is in MY REALITY.

      Its just that RIM has not done a good enough job getting those people to understand the current OS7 offerings can meet their needs.

      This is not a thread that is trying to say that RIM is perfect nor is it trying to say that RIM should not push the envelope and be a industry leader

      Its just saying that RIM has not done a good enough job of letting the public know what OS7 can do.

      thats it

    • The core point is that there are customers out their that have needs and wants that OS7 phones meet 100%, but, RIM is not getting those users because of their advertising and marketing.

    • Hey Adham,

      Your claim seems to be that Android is far superior to the 9900. I have a lot of respect for Android and I’m glad to see Google doing well in the smartphone race, but I stand by my claims. I wanted to see the new Galaxy Nexus in person, so I popped into a shop to check it out. While it’s a great phone, it’s not nearly as pretty as the 9900. The back casing has the feel of cheap plastic, etc. Don’t get me wrong, the asthetics of a device aren’t everything, but I count myself in the crowd that desires to own a device that works AND looks amazing. I also played with Samsung’s flagship phone and while impressive, the look and feel of the UI left me wanting something tighter and more refined. I honestly don’t agree with the notion that Android is somehow flatly superior to the 9900. There are pros and cons — tradeoffs — and as I express in this article, I feel the 9900 is actually an extremely competitive offering from RIM.

      • based on your own needs right Daniel?

        • Brain,

          I think you are very wise to draw the distinction between the needs of different people, and so yes, I think that’s a very key point to be made.

          But there’s another point to be made too, which I’m not shying away from: The 9900 is a great phone all around, and I feel it is very competitive in the general sense, not just far particular people with particular needs.

  6. Great article and I think you are right on about perception being reality. I mean, look no further than the rest of the world…12,000 playbooks sell in 4 days in India, high demand/sales for RIM products in general throughout the rest of the world but read the news and you would think that the US is the only market that exists. The perception of RIM in the US versus the rest of the world actually had me wondering the other day if things continued to get worse (in terms of US market share) if we might actually see RIM “abandon” the US market and become more of an overseas corporation than a North American corporation? No rule that says you have be doing business in the US…India & China are the 2 largest populations, focus on the markets where they do have market share, there is demand.

  7. The 9900 has been out for how long and I just saw the first commercial a few weeks ago…

    • I am convinced they didn’t advertise at the beginning because they thought the BB10/BBX phones would be out sooner, thus, wanted to save ad money for those devices

      Once the decision was made to delay. They had to rethink OS7 advertising.

  8. Also, Daniel B, is iTunes Sync currently the only app you have ported over to the BB7? I would definitely buy the Picasa Sync app.

    Kinda funny because I was just looking through App World on my phone yesterday and saw iTunes Sync in the top ranked apps…I didn’t think you had any OS7 apps so it immediately caught my eye and I was post on your previous article asking you such but you beat me too it. Glad to hear of the success of iTunes Sync…I’ve ditched iTunes but I would have bought your app :)

  9. to better clarify, google love on the blackberry platform is hit or miss*

  10. Hardware
    I’ll concede that RIM did an OK job with the 9900 (still too flat, too slippery, lame camera, looks like it’s been run over, etc.) and possibly the 9850 (decent screen res, but cheap materials and odd looking buttons), but they failed at releasing the slider that a lot of people were waiting for (high res screen + awesome keyboard).
    In terms of performance, OS7 is responsive and multi-tasking works fairly well, so it’s where it should be at since increasing the CPU’s frequency would dramatically reduce the battery life (which is no longer a selling point for RIM).
    All in all, RIM is still always a year late when it comes to hardware (the PlayBook being an exception) and customers can see that when they walk into a shop. There are lots of nice looking phones out there for the money RIM asks for theirs.

    Works better for me than any other OS I’ve used, but BBA Brian is right, people base their judgement on what they’ve been using at work or for the past 2 years, so they don’t realise that OS 7 is a very capable OS, only a bit too complex for a newcomer. iPhone is a leased PlaySkool phone. Great for beginners, but lacking in terms of advanced features and Android has some serious issues in terms of performance, UI and multi-tasking.
    RIM could improve the menu organisation in 7.2 and edict some guidelines, but I guess they’ll be too busy working on BB10…
    So, in terms of marketing, RIM needs to focus on showing complex day to day use-cases that make sense and that can be executed simply with a BB phone. Enough with the BBM ads, it only works when everybody is using a BB and I have less and less friends and colleagues who use one. The competition is there and people will use what works across platforms.
    The first PlayBook ads were a disaster… Showing off a game and a browser that has no extensions and no bookmarks management solution… We’re still waiting for the professional features we were promised and consumers can now buy a Kindle for the same price.
    What we need are demonstrations of how easy it is to complete certain tasks on a BlackBerry, even if it’s through 3rd party apps like Xobni, Google Maps, etc.

    Since most of the devices out there (mainly cheap curves) have low res screens, most apps are watered down version of what can be found on other platforms, when a port exists…
    I’m guessing BB shops will upgrade their apps to support OS 7 for the next 2 years, but they know they’ll have to migrate to something else if they want to keep supporting BB devices. Will they switch to HTML5 or stay with Java, but move to Android?
    Something great about the other platforms is that there are literally apps for everything and some of them will fix what’s wrong with Android (contacts, email, keyboard, notifications, etc.)
    I’m not sure what RIM can do about the situation, except pray for rapid HTML5 adoption, but that means that they will have to release APIs for all of their SDKs at the same time.
    I’d love for them to set up incubators outside of Canada :) so that more people try and release apps for the platforms, but it will be a bigger effort to try and convince Google to release a version of Maps as awesome as the one on Android…

    With the PlayBook, since QNX came with a Flash layer, they thought it would be a good idea to use AIR as a stop gap, but there is a reason none of the big apps made it to the PlayBook, most large software shops don’t work with AIR which is slow even on the desktop and Webworks was way behind AIR in terms of features.
    Maybe they’ve tried to work with big names and failed, but the fact is that today, the choice of apps is pretty limited and most aren’t great. This is a reality for the consumer that tries various tablets in a shop.

    So in my reality, a BB is the only phone I trust with my personal and company data and it’s the one that make me more efficient at work, but in terms of look, apps novelty/discovery and fun factor, it doesn’t come close to what Android has to offer and it looks like the gap will become greater in 2012.

  11. This is the way I see it. 9900, beautiful device, maybe aging OS? yes. PlayBook, great multitasking, seamless app installation, dual cameras. Now, let’s merge the two of them in terms of functionality and a new BlackBerry will be born.

    • Agreed, all RIMM needs to do is combine the efficiency, functionality, keyboard/predictive typing, universal search, shortcuts, work horse quality of the Blackberry with the apps, fluid/easy to understand OS, download capability and multitasking abilities of the QNX OS and market this efficiently and you have a winner.

  12. I really, really, really think that if RIM had marketed the 9900 (or any device they choose for that matter) it would sell. As pointed out above people only choose what they see and hear about. You always see Android and Apple everywhere. Do we see BB everywhere? Noooooo, we don’t. Hopefully with the new ad money coming about we will start seeing BB everywhere. That can only help.

  13. I see a lot of BBs, but they are:
    1) cheap curve devices used by consumers
    2) bold and torches that are likely work devices

    RIM sucks at marketing and they don’t know how to educate consumers OR retailers, so it’s a losing battle slowly over the years. Add in the fact that they can’t hit a deadline to save their own life and you have a major problem that isn’t going to change any time soon.

    • @Papped, your mention of seeing bolds and torches that are likely work devices got me thinking. I take the train to and from NYC a lot and I actually frequent enough to stand out basis I see people with a Blackberry in one hand and an iPhone or Android in the other. The PIM device (palm, clie, etc) became extinct when the smartphone emerged bringing PIM device and cellphone together. People no longer wanted to carry 2 devices. So, why would anyone carry 2 devices now, regardless of who’s paying etc? Doesn’t make sense. Even if your employer provided you with a Blackberry…is the Blackberry so far behind that you would still go out an pay to have your own Android/iPhone? You couldn’t convince me that is the case but that’s the impression I get from the picture…

      • Makes perfect sense to me. Do the basics on the BB and explore new things on Android. I just have a data plan on the 2nd phone, but I can still call and message via Skype if I really need to.

      • Depends on what you do with the device to be and what device it is tbh.

        If you do any kind of mobile gaming whatsoever, BB is abysmal. Even carrying around an ipod touch would make sense.

        Most employers don’t purchase the very latest BB’s right away because they are expensive. If you primarily use your phone for stuff like google maps, navigation, and browsing, again BB5/BB6 devices are generally terrible in this regard. A second device would easily work 10x better for those purposes.

      • I’m not saying BB devices do everything well, they don’t and now that I think about it, some employers probably tell their employees this is your option (options if you’re lucky) so some people are probably “locked in” to carrying a BB when they really would prefer a different device but in both examples, doesn’t seem like either require a second phone number…its about the apps/gaming/hardware capabilities/data plan etc that is being used, correct? In which case, I’m getting a iPad, Playbook, Asus Transformer Prime, Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet etc. Anything with a bigger screen. And even considering price, smartphones no-contract aren’t cheap, iPod Touch is same price range as Kindle Fire/Nook if I recall, iPad has a 3G offering now…guess I’m wrong though lol. Definitely found it interesting though at first….now I’m not so shocked, spot someone every train ride.

  14. For those few (very few) detractors of the form factor–are you blind?!

    The Bold 9900/9930 is the absolutely best looking phone currently available!

    It has the curb appeal of a multi-million dollar estate.

    There are phones that look almost (arguably) as good. When I first say the iPhone 4, I thought it looked sharp too.

    But the full touch screen phones are at a distinct disadvantage. Without the full-time keyboard, it is hard to make a flat piece of glass look great.

    Look at all the Android variations from Samsung, HTC, etc. They have so little to work with. The back, and the sides are all they can work with. What more can you do. Without the screen display on, showing their UI, they have no way to catch ones eye.

    The 9900 looks great just sitting on a counter.

    Its like the difference between some sports cars. When you see them moving at pace, you think ‘wow, nice’. But then some cars, you see them just sitting there at the side of the road, and your jaw drops.

    The Bold 9900 turns heads!

  15. I just recently put an ad in kijiji to trade my 9900 for a 9790. Where I live the signal is marginal and blackberries have always had the best radio for where I live. The 9900 has weak signal here and if I hold it in my hand, it loses it completely. Sometimes I have to put it on a counter just to get the signal up a bit. I also find battery life to be undesirable and I do miss autofocus. I also like the smaller size of the 9790. I think it is a great phone, but for meI think the 9790 will be better.

  16. Daniel

    Your insight is very close to being dead on. I am an advertising professional with over 15yrs experience with large companies. Two things I feel are at play when it comes to RIM.
    1) They have one of the worst managed brands in the history of technology, it’s almost as if they deliberately want to go against what every successful company is doing just to see what can happen. Hubris and lack of vision have created a brand worth ignoring or bashing.

    2) Some very competitive brands have leveraged less than ethical tactics to alter the perceptions of the public about the once front runner in the smartphone industry. Check blogs, websites, articles, writers,etc, they say the same things over and over, and most of it is misinformed or irrelevant. I have seen this tactic before and the constant negative commenting smells like a well paid for campaign to me. But to be clear, RIM has not done anything even remotely assertive to ward of the onslaught either.

    I always upgrade to the newest model BB when they come out, the 9800 was a horrible product and add to that the delays , etc it’s easy to kick an unpopular brand. The 9900 on the other hand….is a huge winner, I love the device in every way ( except the battery), but with zero marketing, zero brand investment, same old style marketing tactics and nothing new as far as advertising and this is where a brand ends up.

    It’s mainly about PERCEPTION ( with a small does of reality)

  17. With the 9900/9930, RIMM has essentially caught up with the competition (Web browser is great and in some ways better than Iphone, video camera competitive, not quite dual core – but competitive). Yet, also improving upon what makes Blackberry the most efficient phone today (fantastic keyboard and form factor, best communition device, extremely usable). Strangely, these assets are not marketed in commercials (the few that are shown). RIMM needs to broaden and rehaul their marketing strategy (Enough with the vague wikitude and BBM commercials). This year, RIMM must come out swinging and come out with some surprises. Most importantly, they must deliver on their promises, meet deadlines and listen to their customers to regain their trust. 2012 will be a criticsl year for RIMM, I hope they can pull this together and fulfill their potential.

  18. OS7 devices are great, especially the 9900 and 9790.
    RIM needs to step up with the advertising, focussing on its attributes, great keyboard, fantastic browser, excellent touchscreen with trackpad, etc…

  19. I’m up for a renewal of my contract, pretty soon. And I previously had a BlackBerry Storm 2, which was a “good” phone, had everything that I needed & wanted. However, the only gripe that I had with that phone, was the phone kept hanging, and the phone became unusable, until I did a battery reset (read: reboot the phone). This became annoying, aside from that I loved the phone….until I lost it!!

    Has anyone that’s being using the Bold 9900 recently ever had any issues like this, where the phone would hang for no apparent reason? I do want to get another BB, but am a bit skeptical….

    • I haven’t had any issues with the device yet. No freezing, etc. But I’ve only had it a week so perhaps other people can comment whether they’ve had issues analogous to what you were seeing with your Storm 2.

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