Are BlackBerry Native Apps Right for Your Brand?

According to Gartner, Android will take the clear lead in mobile phone OS market share by 2015, with iOS garnering the highest profits, both in handsets and application ecosystem sales. Behind these numbers is a lot of bad news for the BlackBerry ecosystem. Symbian as an operating system is being eliminated. Feature phones are being phased out due to their lower profitability for handset makers and carriers. RIM itself is abandoning its platform and moving to a new OS, PlayBook. Most importantly, BlackBerry’s core server and messaging services are now being supplanted by better, cheaper (or free) solutions from competitors that offer a more integrated experience. This is a direct attack on BlackBerry’s core strengths, and it shows just how far RIM has backed itself into the ropes.
Two years ago, first-time smartphone owners chose BlackBerrys. Now these contracts are expiring, and a broad range of extremely attractive alternatives to RIM’s devices are available. As with Windows before it, BlackBerrys are what corporations used, which led to users adopting BlackBerrys for non-business use because they were already familiar with the devices. Today, competing mobile platforms have better core features, and with corporations updating their security policies and infrastructure, BlackBerry is no longer the go-to platform. iOS and Android are succeeding by being a part of users’ work and home lives. This makes them more attractive, and more widely adopted by everyday users. With entire ecosystems of games, music, movies, and TV, as well as enterprise and financial applications available and supported on these platforms, it will be very difficult for BlackBerry to keep up.
According to Bloomberg, of 200 companies polled in the U.S., 83 percent now let their employees use devices other than a BlackBerry. Of those employees who had a another option, more than half chose devices other than BlackBerry. This is critical. Recalcitrant IT departments have become BlackBerry’s firewall. That’s going away.
One could make the argument that Blackberry still commands a large portion of smartphone market share, which is true. That said, it is a more expensive platform to build for and support, as BlackBerry OS has many incarnations. According to RIM’s 2009-2010 numbers, BlackBerry OS 5.0 commands 60 percent of Blackberrys in use. Yet it does not support HTML 5, it does not have touch interface, nor does it have a consumer-focused app store. The BB OS 5.0 legacy reflects so negatively on the BlackBerry ecosystem, RIM no longer releases this data.
Recently, the BlackBerry OS has seen several version updates. BlackBerry OS 6.0 has garnered poor reviews in comparison to iPhone or Android, and BB OS 6.0 is already scheduled for replacement by the new QNX-based BlackBerry Tablet OS. This has led to negative press about RIM not having a firm direction for its platform, causing carriers to de-emphasize BlackBerry devices, and spurring businesses and consumers to migrate off the platform.
For now, the mobile phone platforms generating the most revenue, both in direct sales and in advertising, are iOS and Android, with BlackBerry coming in fourth. RIM’s market share is directly tied to the work its devices facilitate, with little direct revenue coming from applications and advertising. This has led to a decline in the number of developers creating native applications for the BlackBerry platform.
The trend is overwhelmingly in favor of Android and iOS across all key demographics. Consumer smartphones and other mobile devices like the iPad are supplanting traditional “all work and no play” enterprise devices. After all, who wants to carry more than one mobile device when a modern consumer smartphone can do it all? Consumers, and the businesses they work for, are moving towards holistic ecosystems, like iOS and Apple, Android and Google, or, to a lesser extent, Windows Phone 7 and Microsoft. This practical trend is reinforced by the pressure of consumer demand: according to a Nielsen study from Fall 2010, iPhone and Android were the “most desired” among those likely to upgrade their smartphone in the near future.
With a huge legacy install base, BlackBerry apps are probably not dead. However, investment in new BlackBerry apps will have much less impact than investment in apps for iOS or Android. Android and iOS users will be much more likely to install and run your app than BlackBerry users, and unless RIM pulls off a miracle, both platforms will soon have more users as well.
For brands wishing to target BlackBerry’s significant installed base, BlackBerry-optimized web apps offer an excellent alternative. This approach means designing a web site, within a browser, that is tailored to a specific set of mobile devices. The use of HTML5 and WebKit, which is the leading modern web browser framework, brings the ability to tap, swipe, navigate similarly to a native application, with the added benefit of being available to every user on every platform, including the current and next generation Blackberry devices. For older BlackBerrys, web apps can be designed to fall back gracefully to simpler interfaces and reduced functionality.
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