Life after disruption: has BlackBerry done enough?

Once the market leader in smart corporate phones, BlackBerry finds itself on the back foot, five years after the iPhone arrived.

Disruption is a tough thing. BlackBerry (RiM as was) got badly disrupted by the iPhone. It was complacent, didn’t adapt quickly, and saw itself – along with its chief rival Windows Phone – replaced at the top of the heap by iOS and Android. True believers in the device that made corporate e-mail essential and fast moving have had to wait a long time for their new operating system.

It arrived this week. BlackBerry 10 is here. New phones are here. Finally, BlackBerry is fighting back, and trying to regain its place in the market.

The releases look good. They look, in fact, really good. They’re probably as good as iOS and Android – better in some ways, worse in others.

The problem is, that’s probably not going to be enough. Just protecting BlackBerry’s existing customer base isn’t going to be enough. This release is plenty strong enough to stop some of those customers switching straight away. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m not seeing anything here compelling enough to make people switch back, if they’ve been using something else. The horrible, depressing truth for disrupted businesses is that people don’t switch to something that’s just as good – they switch to something that’s manifestly better.

That’s the almost unwinnable situation a seriously disrupted business finds itself in: it not only needs to catch up with its disruptors, t needs to exceed them – and fast. BlackBerry has caught up, but it did not exceed its competitors – and it took five years.

Benedict Evans summed this up rather neatly earlier today:

One of the many challenges faced by BB10 is that the launch hardware is priced to compete head-on with the iPhone 5 and high-end Android phones, yet the platform lacks the range and depth of apps that those devices can offer.

In short – you can’t compete head on, because you’re not offering quite as much – unless you can make a compelling story as to why the lack of apps doesn’t matter. And going cheap takes away the incentive for developers to take you seriously, because cheap users don’t buy apps.

I wish BlackBerry luck. A failed business means job losses and that means disruption and heartache for families and employees. I don’t wish business failure on anyone. And I like a phone ecosystem with lots of competition in it – it drives innovation which makes the mobile phone experience better for everyone, whatever device they use.

I don’t think, at first look this, even with Alicia Keys, is going to be enough.

Let’s hope they prove me wrong.