Pictured above are the Blackberry Bold 9930 and the iPhone 4. They demonstrate two divergent approaches to design. The Blackberry has a full QWERTY keyboard and a few more buttons. The iPhone has famously the single button up front, a power, and volume rocker switch. There are people who swear by the keyboard and for them the Blackberry will always be king. Truth be told, there is an appeal to having a physical keyboard for typing out longer pieces, but all of this is trumped by the convenience of a single large screen. There is a principle laid out in The Innovator’s Dilemma (link) regarding disruptive technologies that is at play here.
The Blackberry represents the sustaining technology of an established company, RIM which has been putting out keyboarded email communicators since the days of beepers and the Clinton administration. It offers a load of features and the apparent love of corporate IT with its locked down security features. The iPhone and other copycat Android phones are the disruptive technology that paradoxically offers less features, an apparently less accurate virtual keyboard, and the ire of corporate IT and geeks in general for missing lots of buttons, but offers utility in its screen, simple interface, and applications which can turn the iPhone into an infinite variety of gadgets. With evolution of the virtual keyboard, and increasingly higher resolution screens, and soon to be introduced bigger screen, and an app store with over half a million apps, the iPhone is eating the Blackberry’s lunch.
This is played out again and again and the established companies invested in their sustaining technologies get rolled over by startups with disruptive technologies that initially offered less or inferior specifications but offered utility with simplification. In vascular surgery, this happened with endovascular technology which compared to classic open vascular surgery appears to offer inferior results on some measures, but offers the utility, particularly to patients, of less invasiveness, fewer dire complications, faster recoveries, and ability to reintervene with acceptable consequences.
The Blackberry Bold 9930 is likely the last of its proud kind –highly evolved, beautifully manufactured, but frankly crippled by trying to be more than it should be by adding touch features to its core product –keyboarded email and text. I was told that IT will be swapping all of these out for iPhone 5 in October.
Apple isn’t sitting on its hands either. It is disrupting itself with its change of screen size and aspect ratio, with its change from a 30 pin connector to a 9 pin connector, and its introduction of Siri. Siri, while initially viewed with enthusiasm, is being panned for often hilarious inaccuracies which ironically mirror the gaffs of its ancestor the Newton in handwriting recognition, but it is classic disruption. It offers the simplicity of NO KEYBOARD, and the promise of conversing with your technology in meaningful ways.
Which leads me to my last point in that in a shifting landscape, you have to be willing to adapt or face the fate of the wooly mammoth, the floppy disk, and even the Blackberry.
Addendum: August 15th -I’ve been using this for two days straight. The battery lasts nicely all day -a reflection of RIM’s parsimony with regard to push email, I think. Dropbox and Evernote apps work okay, but the small screen, as sharp as a tack, is still too small and landscape oriented to be useful. While I don’t mind reading at 5point font or less, and am impressed that the display is nearly Retina-display level pixel density, the lack of space is problematic. Also, no obvious way to number lock the keyboard, but the keyboard does contextually switch to a num lock state, I think. The limitation of the OS to 192mB of total application memory is painful to even think about in this day and age. I don’t think RIM has the time to get this right after wasting so much time getting it wrong.
Addendum: I do have to remark that the screen on the 9930 is amazingly bright and visible in bright daylight and at all angles. The newest downer of the day is when you update or install an app -you are asked to restart which can take upwards of 2 minutes.