You can certainly count me as in the camp of folks that believed RIM/Blackberry had a chance to come back. However more recently I no longer feel this is possible.
While the news today of Blackberry possibly cutting upwards of 40% of their staff before the end of the year, is not the reason I don't think it is possible, it just gave me an excuse to write about something..
The problem stems mainly from the incredibly fast paced maturation (can't believe I just used that word) of the smart phone industry especially in the past three years. There was an opportunity for the likes of Blackberry, WebOS, and even Windows Phone to participate but they were not in the right place at the right time.
I can speak most accurately about WebOS so I'll cover a bit on that. WebOS had tons of cool concepts and ideas, but they lacked the resources to put together a fully solid product - it was always a work in progress (fix coming next version). I felt even before HP bought them (and the feeling has never gone away even in the days of HP's big product announcements etc) - that every day that went by WebOS fell further and further behind(obviously some of WebOS' key technologies took years for the competition to copy, go outside that narrow niche of cool stuff and it's pretty deserted). As much as I wanted to believe they had a chance in hell of catching up again (throw enough money at anything and you can do it) - there just wasn't (and isn't) anyone willing to commit to that level - and it makes sense too - I mean really the last major player left willing to commit to that level is Microsoft - their business is software and operating systems.
Though even before WebOS was released Palm was obviously a mess when they went through their various spin offs, splitting the company divisions up, licensing things around etc. They floundered without a workable (new) operating system for many years. Myself I did not become a customer of Palm until I puchased a Pre back in 2009. So don't look at me as some Palm die hard because I was not. I did own a few Handspring Visors a long time ago and the PalmOS compatibility layer that was available as an App on the Pre is what drove me to the Pre to begin with.
So onto a bit of RIM. I briefly used a Blackberry back in 2006-2008 - I forget the model it was a strange sort of color device, I want to say monochrome-like color(I think this was it). It was great for email. I used it for a bit of basic web browsing but that was it - didn't use it as a phone ever. I don't have personal experience supporting BIS/BES or whatever it's called but have read/heard almost universal hatred for those systems over the years. RIM obviously sat on their hands too long and the market got away from them. They tried to come up with something great with QNX and BB10 but the market has spoken - it's not great enough to stem the tide of switchers, or to bring (enough) customers back to make a difference.
Windows Phone..or is it Windows Mobile.. Pocket PC anyone? Microsoft has been in the mobile game for a really long time obviously (it annoys me that press reporters often don't realize exactly how long Microsoft has been doing mobile -- and tablets for - not that they were good products but they have been in the market). They kept re-inventing themselves and breaking backwards compatibility every time. Even after all that effort - what do they have to show for themselves? ~3.5% global market share? Isn't that about what Apple Mac has ? (maybe Mac is a bit higher).
The mobile problem is compounded further though. At least with PCs there are (and have been for a long time) standards. Things were open & compatible. You can take a computer from HP or from Dell or from some local whitebox company and they'll all be able to run pretty much the same stuff, and even have a lot of similar components.
Mobile is different though, with ARM SoCs while having a common ancestor in the ARM instruction sets really seem to be quite a bit different enough that it makes compatibility a real issue between platforms. Add on top of that the disaster of the lack of a stable Linux driver ABI which complicates things for developers even more (this is in large part why I believe I read FirefoxOS and/or Ubuntu phone run on top of Android's kernel/drivers).
All of that just means the barrier to entry is really high even at the most basic level of a handset. This obviously wasn't the case with the standardized form factor components(and software) of the PC era.
So with regards to the maturation of the market the signs are clear now - with Apple and Samsung having absolutely dominated the revenues and profits in the mobile handset space for years now - both players have shown for probably the past year to 18 months that growth is really levelling out.
With no other players showing even the slightest hint of competition against these behemoths with that levelling of growth that tells me, sadly enough that the opportunity for the most part is gone now. The market is becoming a commodity certainly faster than I thought would happen and I think many others feel the same way.
I don't believe Blackberry - or Nokia for that matter would of been very successful as Android OEMs. Certainly at least not at the scale that they were at - perhaps with drastically reduced workforces they could of gotten by with a very small market share - but they would of been a shadow of their former selves regardless. Both companies made big bets going it alone and I admire them for trying - though neither worked out in the end.
Samsung may even go out as well the likes of Xiaomi (never heard of them till last week) or perhaps Huawei or Lenovo coming in and butchering margins below where anyone can make money on the hardware front.
What really prompted this line of thinking though was re-watching the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago following the release of that movie about Steve Jobs. I watched Pirates a long time ago but hadn't seen it since, this quote from the end of the movie really sticks with me when it comes to the whole mobile space:
Jobs, fresh from the launch of the Macintosh, is pitching a fit after realizing that Microsoft’s new Windows software utilizes his stolen interface and ideas. As Gates retreats from Jobs’ tantrum, Jobs screeches, “We have better stuff!”
Gates, turning, simply responds, “You don’t get it. That doesn’t matter.”
(the whole concepts really gives me the chills to think about, really)
Android is the Windows of the mobile generation (just look at the rash of security-related news events reported about Android..). Ironically enough the more successful Android is the more licensing revenue Microsoft gets from it.
I suppose in part I should feel happy being that it is based on top of Linux - but for some reason I am not.
I suppose I should feel happy that Microsoft is stuck at 3-4% market share despite all of the efforts of the world's largest software company. But for some reason I am not.
I don't know if it's because of Google and their data gathering stuff, or if it's because I didn't want to see any one platform dominate as much as Android (and previously IOS) was.
I suppose there is a shimmer of hope in the incorporation of the Cyanogen folks to become a more formalized alternative to the Android that comes out of Google.
All that said I do plan to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 soon as mentioned before. I've severed the attachment I had to WebOS and am ready to move on.
So obviously the big news of the day is Microsoft buying Nokia's handset division for a big chunk of change. Both seem to be spinning it as a good thing, a logical next step in their partnership. For Nokia it probably is a good thing as it gives them an exit strategy from that business which hasn't been doing so hot. For Microsoft the deal is less attractive with investors obviously agreeing sending their stock down ~5% on the day.
Some folks are saying a big reason for this was perhaps Nokia's patents, which Microsoft apparently gets a ten year license to, they don't acquire them outright (I can only wonder what that would of done for their war on Android), many folks speculate that the CEO of Nokia may be the successor to Ballmer who recently announced his retirement.
I'm going to go out on a limb here as I have nothing to lose and say this is because Nokia was seriously looking at throwing in the towel on the Windows Phone platform.
I think that because there really was no reason for Microsoft to buy Nokia (YET). Nokia was doing Microsoft's bidding, taking all the risk and reaping none of the rewards. They were sacrificing themselves slowly on the sword of Microsoft, and the investors were getting upset. I fully believe(d) that they would be acquired by Microsoft but not until the viability of Nokia was called into question or perhaps if Nokia was going to give up. I suppose the optimistic point of view would be Windows Phone is about to catapult and the acquisition cost is cheap relative to where it would be in the future. I'm not an optimist like that though! Microsoft obviously has a ton of money and has a strong track record of paying a large premium for companies. So I don't think value played a key role here.
More commentary from someone on CNBC this morning asked why didn't Ballmer leave an acquisition of this magnitude to his successor(this being at least the 2nd largest in the company's history) - someone who will be driving the future of the company. Though if Ballmer seriously things this Elop fella is the one to take the reigns, I think that would probably be a mistake - with Elop's recent track record of basically burning the company to the ground to make a bet on a new platform. Microsoft has a ton of businesses, and they need to not burn them to the ground in an effort to chase after the next shiny. Elop sounds like a great leader for devices. I don't know who would make a good MS CEO. That's not an area I try to claim any level of expertise to!
So I think Nokia was at least talking seriously about a major shift in strategy internally -- perhaps just calling Microsoft's bluff - in order to get Microsoft to finally move and acquire them while their share price is where it's at now.
In the end it doesn't matter to me of course, I'm not an investor regardless, I'm not vested for or against the platform. I do admire Microsoft a bit for not giving up though. They have had some major adoption issues with their new platform forcing Nokia to make major price cuts. They've also been able to capitalize on the chaos at Blackberry and wrestle the #3 spot from them. Though globally that #3 spot as it stands today, is still a rounding error in the grand scheme of things.
I just hope for the sake of their users they don't do to Windows Phone 8 what they did to 7, and 6.x, and perhaps prior versions in basically abandoning them and making the newer versions completely incompatible. Windows on desktops has been able to sustain such a large presence in a big part due to such massive amounts of compatibility. I'm honestly still shocked I can run a game that came out in 1995 on a modern 64-bit Windows 7 system without any modifications. To even propose such an idea for the Linux platform just makes me laugh, or cry, or maybe a little bit of both.