What job is a Blackberry hired to do?

When mobile platforms are discussed, the conversation frequently turns to market share battles between Android and iOS. I’ve pointed out before that the problem with this reasoning is that market share in a market that’s growing at 90% is a false measure of performance.

The more important measure is how much of the non-smartphone market is being taken by smartphones and how fast the whole phone market is growing. Competition with non-consumption is very different from platform warfare.

But even when discussing the rivalry between current platforms, the Blackberry and Symbian are often overlooked as contenders. Windows Phone and iOS come in and out of discussion only on the basis of press releases. The truth is however that Symbian, Windows, Blackberry are not going to disappear anytime soon.  Why is that?

The reason is that when you stop framing the market as rivalry between platforms, you see that many buying decisions are driven by specific device value propositions or jobs that the products are hired to do. For many years smartphones were purchased because they had the best cameras or the best keyboards and users never downloaded any apps or even used data plans.

Later, smartphones were purchased because they allowed for browsing and gameplay. Very rarely did buyers opt for “iOS” or “Symbian”. Most buyers don’t even know what these words mean. Phones are rarely advertised according to their platforms. (As an aside, the mention of Windows in a PC ad is made possible by Microsoft funding, the same as “Intel Inside.” So for platform recognition, someone needs to fund the promotion and that implies some revenue to justify it.)

To illustrate, consider the Blackberry: A product that continues to grow despite a completely different basis of competition from the large screen touch competitors. It comes down to being good at some very specific jobs. RIM continues to grow in certain markets like Latin America and the Middle East on the basis of BBM (RIM’s sales outside the U.S. climbed 94 percent last quarter from a year earlier.)

“A 15-year-old boy who likes a 15-year-old girl, sends her a BBM and he’s able to measure how important he is to her based on the speed of response after the letter turns to an R,” meaning it’s been read, he says. “No one else runs an end-to- end service plan like we do. That’s killer and is why it’s almost a social phenomenon.”


BBM is also popular in socially conservative Saudi Arabia where its speed — messages are typically sent in less than two seconds, according to Morgan Keegan — has made it a way for teenagers to communicate in a country where religious police bar unmarried couples from meeting in public.

You could argue that the other platforms also allow for free messaging (through free texting apps) but the combination of a low cost device, a data plan and attention to detail (like Message Read notification) gives the Blackberry an edge.

The general purpose smartphone that Google and Microsoft and Apple promote is still not the prevailing view of mobile usage for most buyers. One could also argue that many if not most Nokia smartphones are still being “hired” to do feature phone jobs.

The fact that all these devices are classified as smart and therefore competing misses the point that they are hired for different things.