Reinventing the Executive Image of the BlackBerry Product Line

Its got to be very hard to design and market product lines for mobiles. Forget the consumers (me and you), just making something that will get enough attention from carriers when you don’t have the logistical and brand ability of a Nokia – to sell directly to people for a good chunk of your sales – has got to be hard. But, I think that in such a challenge comes the mandate to make sure that you are keeping things simple. Not just for your consumers and customers (read: carriers), but also for yourself as it would make it a lot easier for you to market an image or even make shifts when needed.

As I looked at the new RIM BlackBerry models., I couldn’t help but feel that RIM has lost that ability to identify with itself, and therefore has lost that ability for products to keep that cohesive message. Here’s a small attempt on my part to pare things down by using their product line as the hinge for reinventing their image.

What is the “BlackBerry Image?”

For as much as media and enterprises alike bemoan the use of BlackBerry devices (calling them everything from chains to crackberries), one thing is obviously clear about them – there’s an image of executive acumen attached to them. Executive acumen – or at least the appearance of knowing how to get things done – is both a good and a bad thing. In a successful company, a chief executive or executive team that is cohesive gives not just great vision, but also endears emotional attachment and motivation towards their goals. On the other end, where there’s no connect felt between the aims of the executive team and the rest of the company, the resulting product is more or less like a millstone – where people hope that one day, it will all be over with.

So, this BlackBerry image, what is it: well, we can start with the small phrase “executive acumen” and work out from there what this product line would look like.

QWERTY Devices

There’s no way of getting around the fact that QWERTY devices are going to be associated with BlackBerry for a good while longer. And that’s not a bad thing to hang their hat on. I just think that instead of a family of devices that pretty much all look the same and have different degrees of camera resolutions, screen types (touchscreen or not), and widths, that RIM would do well just having one QWERTY model – something in the lines of the Bold Touch.

This Bold Touch would be the only QWERTY model – there’d be no tweaking of the variants for carriers (except in the case of having a model that has both CDMA and GSM radios), and RIM would simply license the pent-band radios that Nokia is using in their Symbian 3 models for the effort. These devices would need to have Bluetooth 3.0 (4.0 would be nicer), NFC, Wi-Fi, and no less than an 8 megapixel camera with auto-focus. 

The key thing to play up with this device would have to be “executive acumen equals communication.”

I’ll try to remember to come back to software.

Other Devices

Just because I’m throwing out all the QWERTY models doesn’t mean that I think they can pull an Apple and just have one product. Remember, I’m talking “executive acumen” and therefore the goal has to be emphasizing the ability to project that “executive ability to get things done.”

One model to keep would definitely have to be the Playbook. After owning an iPad (1st gen) and playing with a Playbook, I’m not convinced that having two models would be best here. I do think though that the Playbook needs to move away from simply being a companion to the BB, to being something like a space-enhancer. If you will, it needs to on one hand be able to be the monitor for the BB when you are at your desk, but also has to be able to extend itself into being like a second monitor for those times when presenting or in a more laid-back reading environment.

The BB Presenter is another device that needs to have a healthy kick in the pants. I’ve always thought that it was a good idea, but that the execution was a bit flawed because of the state of presentation software on BBs (to create, not just to show). I would like to see the Presenter move into a similar role that the Apple TV and Roku models have. But again, the point here would have to be using first the BB device as a axel to serving the content, with maybe some kind of extended “Presenter services” channel that’s able to allow for more interactive items to happen (for example, turing your BB into a Wii-like controller for the presentation, or going the route of Idea Flight and sharing a presentation deck from the Presenter but controlling it from your “host” BB).

Lastly, I’d love to see RIM do something along the lines of a Wi-Fi Apple Nano or MetaWatch. This would be a piece of wearable computing (and instead of a wrist-watch, make it more pocket-watch or broach-like in design) that would be like the Playblook in that you’d have this second screen to which you can interact with your BB device. But, it would also endear experiences all its own. For example, it would have to have the ability to connect to your BT headset and allow you to respond to BBM and text messages by voice (either voice to text or straight sending audio messages). This device would also have to have its own suite of mini-apps – think workout applications that can connect to your corporate health care provider or a maps extension that can take the directions that your BB has gathered from a mapping program, but display where to go next like a compass needle.

Again, the idea here is that a BB is supposed to be able to help you project this ability to be more directed than others. Your acumen is like that of a chief executive, however the BB devices you have work very much like an office of personal assistants.

Software and Services

I’ve talked about simplifying the product line (literally getting down to 4 (5 if CDMA) devices. What about the software and services – RIM certainly doesn’t want to just be a device manufacturer and its really the services side of things that makes their cake.

BES is understood as an IT admin’s best friend because of its ability to manage and secure devices. Its not necessarily simple, but its very complete. There’s probably not much more that can be done here. So, here’s where I’d suggest that BES stretch itself into other aspects of your company for example the previously mentioned hook into your health care provider. 

Companies that are able to manage BES in-house are probably also dealing with a health management system – how much of the digital identity management is duplicated between these two? How much more is this duplicated in HR systems like PeopleSoft, etc.? BES needs to open itself to those systems to allow for more centralized identity management. And in that opening, make things such as managing your health care package easier. I’m glazing over details, but if you’ve worked in an enterprise, then you know that getting people’s information updated, or grabbing simpler analytics such as who’s utilized what health care services, is a pain in the but to manage. BES already has the “mobile” dataset – why not connect that to the other systems and begin managing one person instead of 3 or more instances of that person.

Again, executive acumen is the projection and the goal.

Conclusion of Sorts

Look, I’m no product manager. I do have the experience with multiple software and hardware platforms inside and outside of IT to realize when a product vision is fractured. I believe that simplicity is the best way to relevance, and the companies that are most profitable seem to agree with that assumption. I don’t see in any way how the most recent releases by RIM are going in that direction. If anything, they muddle their image (perceived and projected) even more making it harder for consumers and customers to get a bead as to where they stand.

If RIM were to take my suggestions, trim the product fat if you will and just be focused. I’d bet that they wouldn’t just see revenues grow faster and healthier, but that they’d resume their place in the mind of executives and those that want to be executives that BBs are the “working toys” for adults who get things done.