You Don’t Need to Be Everything to Everyone

Lately I have been watching Chris Pirillo‘s videos on YouTube and some things he has been talking about, such as his feelings towards Apple, really struck a chord with me in regards to my feelings about “Blackberry” (formerly Research in Motion). This post started as a comment on Chris’ video, “Is Apple Doomed with Tim Cook?“.

“When you stop understanding what made someone a fan…”
– Chris Pirillo

This is the perfect description of what happened to me when Research in Motion turned into “Blackberry”. The company totally lost sight of what made me (and probably a lot of other people, especially business professionals) a fan in the first place.

Some would say that after the iPhone’s incredible success, it would have been foolish for RIM to double down on their Blackberry hardware design, rather than try to copy the Apple’s designs, but history has shown that “Blackberry” just did not have what it took to be an Apple contemporary. As such, RIM really should have soldiered on and stuck to their design philosophy that produced truly exceptional communication devices. Sure, their market share would have dropped as “normal people” replaced their phones with pocket entertainment devices, as history has proven, but at least the group of people who prioritize ergonomics and communication over entertainment would have continued to have awesome Blackberry devices.

I loved my Blackberry Bold 9900 (I used it every day for more than two years) and when BB10 OS was released, all I wanted was another 9900 chassis running the new OS. Unfortunately, “Blackberry” never made one. The closest to a 9900 that was made was the Blackberry Classic (GSM Arena comparison), which is similar in layout, hardware quality, and physical features, but by comparison it is bloody enormous and said enormity negatively impacts its ergonomics to the point where it simply can’t be used in the same manner as one would use the smaller Blackberry.

Some would argue that the Blackberry Q10 is a direct replacement for the Bold 9900, but as an owner and long time user of both devices, I can say with the utmost of confidence that such a statement is completely untrue. Both devices had a touch screen, but the 9900 also had a trackpad that allowed the user to move a mouse cursor around the screen. When editing text, be it in an email or simply in the address bar of the web browser, that trackpad was so invaluable that even today I see it as being one the most useful technical innovations in mobile computing. Using Blackberry OS 10 on the Q10 was a super fluid and fun experience, until it came to having to “click” on anything or having to edit text, which was a huge, super annoying, step backwards from the “so great that I didn’t know it was great” experience I had in Blackberry OS 6 and 7 on the Bold 9900. I’m talking about the ergonomics of 2.8″ and 3.1″ touch screens here, not some 5+” mini-tablet; The trackpad pointing device is pretty much required at those small screen sizes.

Using the Blackberry Q10 made me frustrated and angry, essentially forcing me to use two hands to do many of the same things I joyfully did on my Blackberry Bold 9900 using only my thumb – my off-hand thumb no less!

How does the new Android based Blackberry KeyOne fair? It’s suffers from the same issues as all the other new Blackberry devices:

1. It’s way too tall, causing it to be too unbalanced to be used with one hand. It also is uncomfortably long when placed in one’s pocket (the older Blackberries were the perfect size for a front pocket – you knew it was in there, but it didn’t feel strange or uncomfortable when you moved).

2. It’s too wide to allow me to hit all the keys with a single thumb.

3. It lacks the innovation of the trackpad, which is still an amazing tool for editing text and navigating websites, etc.

Given that the new devices are lacking the very aspects of what made me love using my original Curve 8520 and the Bold 9900 that replaced it, “Blackberry” seems to have simply thrown out the design philosophy that made their older phones such amazing communication devices. Sure, the new devices have the immensely useful Android app ecosystem, but so do all the other thousands of Android devices. Sure, the Priv and KeyOne have both Android and a physical keyboard, but neither of those devices deliver the exceptional communications device experience of older, smaller Blackberries.

Some would say, “who the hell would buy such a small screened smart phone with a keyboard and a trackpad these days?”, to which I would answer, “Me, in a heartbeat!”.

Yeah, I like my Samsung Galaxy S6 well enough, but I totally hate how massive it is, because it sucks for my tiny man hands. Furthermore, I don’t need or want a tablet in my pocket – I would rather use an actual tablet. I do, however, want a solid, high quality, phone, text, email, and camera device that I can use with one hand. Unfortunately it became clear to me that I was never going to get another 9900-like device, so the S6 seemed as close to a spiritual successor to the 9900, in design and quality, that was available. I love the S6 as a portable PC / toy, but I hate it as a communications device, because it’s clunky, it’s awkward, and it’s no fun at all to type/edit anything substantial upon.

I can’t help but feel that Research in Motion fell into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone, allowing their hubris to push them to “be the best”, eventually causing themselves to lose sight of who they really were and what made them special. I miss RIM and honestly, all I ever wanted from them was a better camera and a web browser that would actually display the information I was trying to look up. Everything else about my Blackberry Bold 9900 I truly adored.

The saddest part about this issue of trying to be everything to everyone is that it seems to happen to companies all the time. Rather than being true to themselves and focusing on what made them successful in the first place, they take a whole other direction that their original fans may not wish to follow. From Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distribution to Tim Hortons donuts and coffee, so many of the things I once loved have been made into something that I no longer enjoy. And it’s not because I stuck in my ways or that I hate change, it’s because the products or services simply aren’t as useful or as enjoyable as they used to be.

Here is a fun comparison of the size of various keyboards I mentions. Desktop keyboard thrown in for good measure. 🙂

Here’s a link to size comparison on Phone Arena between the Blackberry KeyOne, Blackberry 9900, and Samsung Galaxy S6.