Blackberry’s Future [BBC]

In some ways our world all looks very similar. Prefab coffee and fast food chains, Cars that all look the same. Everyone on Facebook. But what we–and by we I include the people who actually produce and sell these goods and services–don’t do a good job of is understanding while the global products may be similar, how they’re actually used can be very different. 

In short: Just because your fancy product is doing well in country X, do you actually know why? 

This, it turns out, is kind of important. Because if you don’t understand that, chances are you won’t know how to keep the good thing going, let alone expand on it. 

Take, for example, Research in Motion, They’ve done extraordinarily well in some countries, but none more so than Indonesia. Everyone, it seems has a BlackBerry. A friend recently bought one for his six year old daughter so she wouldn’t be teased at school. 

This is music to the ears of RIM, because as you may have heard they’re not doing so well in other parts of the world. So it made sense for the company to try to sell its devices to another 7 million Indonesians, After all, the first 7 loved them. 

So they’ve launched a new phone. It has a radio in it, because that’s what they heard people in emerging markets like Indonesia want. It has a special button on the side which will take users to its BB messaging service, which is what group-oriented Indonesians love about the Blackberry. And it’s going to be cheaper. 

But RIM didn’t create its success in Indonesia,. That was organic–a lucky mix of Indonesians’ love of new things and their conservatism that keeps them wedded to products after others have moved on. Local telephone providers helped by keeping prices low. And out of it all came a lively ecosystem of program developers, street corner vendors selling accessories and fixing broken phones, and malls full of second hand dealers. 

Now RIM is trying to formalize this, But they may not completely understand the unique culture of adoption and usage that Indonesians have given to the BlackBerry, which is quite different to how a corporate drone in New York might use it. 

As globalization throws up more of these quirks companies are going to have to work harder, faster and better to understand why their products are popular. Because if they don’t they may not only find themselves unable to build on that success; they may find their efforts to expand actually make things worse. By trying to expand downmarket in Indonesia for example, RIM may run against one of the very things that makes the brand popular: its exclusivity, which makes a BB a status symbol.

That may sound odd to someone in Canada, Hong Kong or London for whom the BlackBerry is yesterday’s news. But that’s the point. Globalisation may look good on paper, but going local is the only way to make it a success strategy.  

In Asia, BlackBerry’s RIM sees a glimmer of hope

A piece I wrote from Jakarta on RIM’s efforts to expand in those emerging markets where it had already done well: 

(Reuters) – The launch in India of a new BlackBerry by Research In Motion Ltd is not just a nod to its lower-end users who love it less for its security, push email and seamless roaming than for its simplicity and its Messaging. It’s a strategy the Canadian company hopes will help fill both a hole in its balance sheet and a half-year wait for its next big thing — the BlackBerry 10 platform.

But will it work?

The handset itself won’t impress devotees: its main selling point is a dedicated side button that lets users chat over its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and a built-in FM radio, which lower-end Nokia phones have had for a decade. It works only on the slower 2G networks, and the camera isn’t that great. But, RIM says, that’s the point.

Rest at Analysis: In Asia, BlackBerry’s RIM sees a glimmer of hope 

The Real Revolution

This is also a podcast, from my weekly BBC piece. 

While folks at the annual tech show in Vegas are getting all excited about a glass-encased laptop, the world’s thinnest 55″ TV and a washing machine you can control from your phone, they may be forgiven for missing the quiet sound of a milestone being crossed: there are now more smartphones in the world than there are ordinary phones.

According to New York-based ABI Research, 3G and 4G handsets now account for more than half of the total mobile phone market. Those old ‘dumb phones’ and the so-called feature phones–poor relations to the computer-type iPhone or Android device can–are now officially in decline.

This is, in the words of ABI Research’s Jake Saunders, “an historic moment.” While IDC, another analyst company, noticed that this happened in Western Europe in the second quarter of last year, Saunders points out: “It means not just mobile phone users in Developed Markets but also Emerging Market end-users are purchasing 3G handsets.”

So why is this a big issue? Well, a few years back it would have been hard to convince someone in an emerging market to shell out several hundred bucks for a phone. A phone for these folks was good for talking and sending text messages. That was a lot. And enough for most people–especially when the handset cost $20 and the monthly bill was even less.

Now, with prices falling and connectivity improving in the developing world a cellphone is so much more: It’s a computer. It’s an Internet device. It’s a portable office and shop front. It’s a music player. A TV. A video player. A way to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

And for the industry these people in emerging markets are a life saver. For example: The developed world is pretty much saturated with smartphones. People aren’t buying them in the numbers they used to.

But that’s not to say the feature phone is dead. In fact, for some companies it’s still an important part of their business. Visionmobile, a UK based mobile phone research company, says that Nokia–busy launching its new Windows Lumia phones in Vegas–is still the king of feature phones, accounting for more than a quarter of the market.

And they just bought a small company called, confusingly, Smarterphone, which makes a feature phone interface look more like a smartphone interface. So clearly at least one company sees a future in this non-smartphone world. In a place like Indonesia, where the BlackBerry leads the smartphone pack, nearly 90% of phones sold in the third quarter of last year were feature phones, according to IDC.

So companies see a big chance for growth in these parts of the world. But they also need the spectrum. If you’re a mobile operator your biggest problem now is that smartphone users do a lot of downloading. That means bandwidth. The problem is that one piece of spectrum is for that 3G smartphone, and another is for your old-style 2G phone. The sooner you can get all your customers to upgrade their handset to 3G, the sooner you can switch that part of the spectrum you own to 3G.

So this is a big moment. We’re seeing a tipping point in the world’s use of cellphone use, from a simple, dumb communication device to something vastly more useful, vastly more exciting, vastly more lucrative. All those people moving over to smartphones

ABI Research reckons there’ll be 1.67 billion handsets sold this year. That’s one in four people buying a new device. Forget fancy Vegas. The real revolution just started.

My Technology-free Lunch

At lunch today, it took me some time to realise what was different. It wasn’t just that my four lunch partners were all quite a bit older than me–15 years, at least, and I’m not as young as you think I am. It was, I realised, that in more than two hours of eating not one of us had answered a phone–or even received a phone call, or text message, or furtively checked our email. I’m not sure any of us were packing a BlackBerry. Maybe my companions weren’t even carrying cellphones. It was extraordinary.

I was going to ask, but I didn’t want to ruin the moment. Here were five men sitting around a table talking about stuff for about 120 minutes, and not one single interruption by technology or modern communications. They weren’t even in sight: Not one of us had put a phone on the table in the usual custom of staking out one’s corner of the table. It felt like a flashback to the early 1990s. And it was great.

A recent survey in the UK highlights how mad we’ve become:

Our liking for modern technology may be disrupting our sleep – and even our relationships, claims a UK survey.

The poll, by The Sleep Council, found that many people admitted checking texts, surfing the internet, or playing games in bed.

It suggests one in four people now regularly sleeps in a different bed from their partner, and many often go to bed at different times.

God I miss the old days.

(And no, it wasn’t a boozy lunch. No alcohol in sight.)

BBC NEWS | Health | Gadgets may cause lonely bedtimes

Tony’s Camera


Tony’s Camera
Originally uploaded by Loose Wire.

How many people, I wonder, have had this experience: a nightmare with a smartphone and a return to trusty basics. My friend Tony has a BlackBerry, but this is his phone of choice, and after his N91 died in midflight (literally) he decided he wouldn’t take a chance on a phone being anything more than a phone anymore. This ancient museum-piece is now his main phone and he’s very happy with it. And he being in telecoms too!

Computers: Right Back Where We Started

image

A lot of my time is spent writing for and talking to people for whom the computer remains a scary beast that is best kept at arm’s length, or, better, in a closet. I feel for these people because I’m not naturally a techie myself.

I failed science and math in school and almost certainly would again if I retook those exams. (I blame the science teacher, an evil vicar who tormented me, but that’s another story.) But perhaps these technophobes have a point? Perhaps computers and the Internet haven’t really done us any favors?

Firstly, the stats. Has the computer/Internet boom made us more productive? Apparently not. Well, it did the first time around: the 1990s technology surge (the steep red bit in the chart above) made us all productive, and that continued until about 2003 (the extra years beyond the bubble burst helped by the momentum of the surge, and some serious cost-cutting. But since 2004 the U.S. has been in decline in terms of the rate of productivity growth (or trend productivity, to give it its proper name), to the point where we’re pretty much back where we started in 1995. I know it doesn’t exactly follow, but given a lot of us didn’t have BlackBerries, ultraportable laptops and ubiquitous Internet connections in those days, does that mean we’re doing about the same amount of work then as we are, with all those gizmos, now?

Scary thought. And in some ways the answer is yes. According to research firm Basex, nearly a third of our day is eaten up with interruptions from e-mail, cell phones, instant messaging, text messaging, and blogs like this one. In financial terms that’s a lot of

McKinsey sees it differently: We’ve outsourced or automated all the simple stuff, so we’re left with people whose jobs can’t be done by computers.

I see it a little differently again. I believe that we have mistaken ubiquitous computing — in other words, the ability to do stuff anywhere, anytime — as making us more productive because we’re filling “dead time”. It’s this misunderstanding of time that I think is causing us problems. Take some of these quotes from a story on how BlackBerries make us more productive, from July last year:

I can now use downtime–waiting to collect daughters, train journeys–to continue to read and action e-mails, which means I don’t have a huge queue waiting for me when I’m next in the office

After a recent long weekend, I would normally have returned to around 150 e-mails …Instead, I spent an hour on my PDA the night before I was due back into work, and the next morning, I walked in to only six mails that required attention. Not only did this make me more efficient, but it totally reduced my stress levels

The technology both increases output by enabling what would otherwise be unproductive downtime to be used positively, and is liberating in that it allows flexibility and responsiveness.

The BlackBerry has definitely extended the capability of utilizing ‘dead’ time effectively–trains, taxis, 10-minute waits or answering questions like this

We are all benefiting from quicker response times to things that need actioning ‘now … Communication between department managers is much quicker.

Each statement is usually followed by a ‘I realise I need a balance/the wife hates it’ comment, as if the user is aware of the pitfalls. But the pitfall is not the ‘always on’ culture this creates, or even the lack of awareness that the ability to react quickly to something will simply prompt another reaction and require another response. The pitfall is that the “dead time” of waiting for your daughter to finish school, or the “unproductive down time” is actually an important component of our lives, and therefore of our productivity.

Sitting in your car waiting for your kid, the lazy hour on a Sunday evening after the washing-up’s cleared away and the kids are in bed, used to be time when you’d think about what needed to be done, or to reflect (on your daughter, hopefully, so you’re mentally ready for her rather than still mentally scanning emails when she’s gushing about gym class.) Dead time was there for a reason: a chance to think outside the box, reflect, think about that email you’re going to send the boss rather than jab a misspelled couple of lines on your BlackBerry so you can cross that item off your Getting Things Done list.

Productivity may be slowing because we’ve just filled every second of that dead time already and there’s nothing left to fill. If that’s even partly true, then the productivity was fake, since it was based on a false assumption: that the dead time was empty, an unused resource. Anyone who has sat in a moving vehicle and looked out of the window reflecting on stuff knows that this is actually the most important part of the day, and by removing it most of our BlackBerry-wielding friends/colleagues/bosses/spouses have turned into zombies, unable to locate themselves in the here and now.

The solution then, to this productivity crisis is to use technology less, not more. I’m not suggesting we don’t use BlackBerries — although I don’t — but I’m suggesting we stop deluding ourselves that these gadgets are saving our marriage/hearts. They’re not. They’re like ping pong paddles with the ball on a piece of elastic — we think are batting the problems out of our lives but they’re just coming back at us. Time to put the bat down and look out the window.

Crying Out for Clarity

Interesting post and thread at Signal vs Noise on the overuse of buzzwords, particularly on job applications. One thing caught my eye, though: the assumption that shorter, briefer is better. One commenter wrote: “I’ve always noticed that the shortest emails come from those with the most power in the organization.” That’s probably because they’re using a BlackBerry. Shorter isn’t necessarily better, although it might be. Clarity is better. Not always the same thing. (Having just read through a dozen award applications I see a crying need for clarity.)

Anyway some horrible buzzwords that crop up in the comments or my head:

  • anything with 2.0 in it
  • ‘space’ meaning market
  • ‘interface’ as a verb
  • stakeholder
  • grow as a transitive verb
  • more buzzwords here.

The Demise of the Considered Response

It’s my rather pompous term for the way that email, SMS and, in particular, the SlackBerry [sic] reduce the quality of our replies. Nowadays, it seems, a prompt one-line answer to an email is considered somehow more productive, efficient, effective and “smart” than actually contemplating for a moment the subject and the best response. However trite, irrelevant or misinformed the response is, it seems the act of responding is more important than the nature of the reponse itself.

Another solution, of course, is just to forward the message to others with a brief one line at the top suggesting they read it. This is how poor communication breeds.

The reality is that the recipient probably hasn’t read it himself. Or read it properly, top to bottom. Out there are millions of people only half listening — their emails only half read, slackly responded to (hence my term for the BlackBerry): an industry riddled with the incompetence of the superficially efficient.

My most recent experience of this (boring technical aside follows, feel free to stop reading here) was from my hosting company, which only ever half-read my emails to them requesting help. Here’s our most recent exchange (of many):

Thanks for this, and www.loosewireblog.com is now working. But loosewireblog.com continues to FORWARD to the typepad address; this is not domain mapping. Is there no FAQ that hostway has on this much demanded feature? If not, can you give me specific instructions as to how to map the ROOT domain to the typepad address I’m seeking? Best, Jeremy

Their response, more than 12 hours later (from a 24–hour support service:

Hello,

We have updated your DNS records to the ones that you previously specified. Please test your site in a few hours and contact us if you still have problems.

Thank you.

In the intervening 12 hours I had figured out how to solve the problem I hoped they might be able to solve for me. So of course their fix — which wasn’t a response to my question, even though I had carefully put the key words in CAPS — actually broke the website. This might explain why those of you trying to access the blog via loosewireblog.com haven’t been fortunate the past few hours. Hopefully it is now fixed.

If only the Demise of the Considered Response was as easily reversible.

Canada Gets The Hipster PDA

Nice piece by Tralee Pearce in The Globe and Mail on ‘The hipster PDA’ :

On BlackBerry-addicted Parliament Hill, NDP press secretary Ian Capstick turns heads with his newest organizational gadget: a stack of 3 x 5 index cards held together by a black bull clip.

The hipster PDA, of course, is Merlin Mann’s idea, and the piece quotes liberally from Merlin — visit his website at 43Folders. An interesting article and worth a read.

Logitech’s Bluetooth pen

Logitech are about to bring out their io2 pen for Bluetooth:

This summer, Logitech will launch a Bluetooth-enabled version of the io2 Digital Pen, designed to address the current data entry shortcomings of mobile data capture devices. Logitech’s Bluetooth digital pen, when used in combination with a Bluetooth wireless handheld device, will help an organization’s mobile workforce more efficiently gather, transmit and share important data.

A press release gives a bit more detail: Using the Logitech io2 Digital Pen with Bluetooth technology, a mobile worker will be able to capture information by using a customized version of a standard paper form, such as for an insurance appraisal or a work order. The pen automatically creates a digital record that is transmitted to a complementary Bluetooth wireless technology enabled handheld communication device, such as a smart mobile phone, PDA or Blackberry. That data can be stored and processed on the handheld device or immediately sent into an organization’s central database for processing. For the mobile worker, it’s an automated process that starts with filling out a familiar form and ends with a confirmation on his or her wireless handheld communication device that the information has been sent and received.

Sounds interesting, although I’m not quite clear about how this differs from the Nokia SU-1B pen, which originates from the same Anoto source. And why aim only at business users with this?