Why BlackBerry is failing
The company wants to lead the Internet of Things, but in reality it's a niche player in a mature mass market.
A decade ago, in the wake of the dot-bomb, I was looking for something to write about when I came upon what's now called the Internet of Things.
The promise was enormous. Single-chip computers can add intelligence to everyday objects, connected via wireless links to the enormous promise of the Internet.
Your yogurt could tell you when it was turning, your garden could be watered on its own schedule, and your doctor might find out about your imminent heart attack before it came upon you -- a real killer app.
I spoke about all this in 2004 at Stanford, at a conference on the future, opposite novelist David Brin, who drew an enormous crowd against my unhappy few. So I shelved the idea and went on to other things, things that were actually happening, like open source.
So it was with some surprise at Wednesday's BlackBerry (RIMM) event that I heard CEO Thorsten Heins say he wanted the BlackBerry 10 to become the center of the "Internet of Things," as the CBC report on the event noted.
What was he talking about? Turned out it was something his senior vice president, Sebastian Marineau-Mes, discussed at length during last September's Mobilize conference, covered by GigaOm.
The way to having your car, your air conditioner and your heart under intelligent remote control is "curated openness," he said, cross-industry standards managed through an independent authority. Apple's (AAPL) iOS is too closed, he said, and Google (GOOG) Android too open.
He might have added that BlackBerry's QNX is already used in 60% of cars, as Telecoms.com reported last year.
Qualcomm (QCOM) and AT&T (T) are both anxious to get this moving, and have jointly created a platform called Internet of Everything, aimed at cutting the time to market for applications, and supporting a version of Java, ReadWriteMobile reports. A standard called the Constrained Application Protocol, or CoAP, has been proposed, helped by a working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force.
The problem, as Marineau-Mes noted in September, is that industries that might benefit from all this still work in silos, sometimes deliberately. There's a desire for both absolute security and absolute privacy, neither of which exists in open standards, as KlocTalk recently noted.
For everyone who wants this market to develop, there is someone who objects to the market's implications. Thus the industry remains in the startup stage, with devices like NinjaBlocks that let homeowners add intelligence to their home slowly. Wired says we're at the Apple II stage of this industry.
And that's the problem. BlackBerry is entering a mature, mass market, where a 1% market share requires that you sell 16 million units in a single year. Hiring singer Alicia Keys as creative director, as Business Week reports BlackBerry has done, matters more to this market than anything that may happen in a nascent, if interesting, market niche.
That's why BlackBerry stock is falling today. It needs the mass market. Niches won't do.
At the time of publication the author had positions in GOOG and AAPL.
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