BlackBerry has Jumped the Digital Shark

Heard on the train a few days ago, as two interns in their early 20’s discussed their co-workers:  “He is so old and creepy. Even if I liked him, what is he gonna do, text me from his BlackBerry? Who even still has one of those?

Research In Motion, makers of the mobile BlackBerry device, recently announced terrible quarterly numbers and further delayed the release of the next version of their phone. As just one in a string of recent misses for the company, media pounced on the financial news and many outlets proclaimed it to be one of the last nails in RIM’s coffin. In response, the recently appointed CEO made several bold statements pointing towards a bright future for the business and the next version of their device, the BlackBerry 10.  Despite being derided as delusional, the CEO pointed out that the organization does have several things going for it:  They have zero debt and plenty of cash, a well-established user-base and plans to reduce operating expenses.  Of course, he’s not likely to come out saying, “Hell, I don’t know, I only just took the job and things are pretty messed up,” but he makes some good points.

Moreover, he seems to understand the company’s struggles.  He stated, “…RIM has missed on important trends in the smart-phone industry…” and further pointed out that they were keenly aware of the position the BlackBerry device once held, “With BlackBerry, RIM created the framework that gave people their first taste of an untethered yet completely connected life.”  That last bit might not sound like a big deal now, but it was at one point.  In the early days of the emergence of the device, it truly was liberating to be able to stay current with work while not physically at work. For the first time, with a single portable, corporate-approved, secure email device, early adapters (and, eventually, seemingly everyone in the corporate world) could finally stay connected when not in the office. Crazy as it might sound now, there was one point when having a BlackBerry was considered a status symbol.

I am not going to debate whether the company is still viable or not.  Personally, I believe they do have the potential, and resources, to succeed and the willingness to do so.  Change is always uncomfortable and this might simply be that period of discomfort.  However, since I heard the statement on the train the other day, I’ve paid much closer attention to who I see using BlackBerrys. And darn it if every single person I saw using one wasn’t over 30 years-old.  It is a small, hardly-scientific and incidental observation, but the next time you see someone using a Blackberry device, take a guess how old they might be. I’d wager not a recent college grad.

Jumping the shark is a term used (generally in TV) to indicate the exact moment when a series started going downhill and is no longer considered fresh, hip or relevant. I think, despite RIM’s potential, they are going to have to overcome a huge market perception that they are simply not cool.  In today’s age of digital devices, becoming cool is a long, uphill battle and, resources or not, that might simply be one that is unwinnable for the BlackBerry device.

Increasingly, we are being defined by our technology choices, whether is it identifying as a PC or a Mac or defining your budget by your device, judgments are being made about you as a consumer.  When you whip out your smart phone, are you sending the social message that you intend to send?