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The BBM Factor

The perception of RIM has changed enormously here in the past five years. It's a compulsory corporate item in the US, where it's to the white collar cubicle dweller what the loin cloth was to the cave man. (I get all my history from Hollywood - in this case 1 Million Years BC; I challenge you to prove me wrong).

But in the US, as soon as the "cabin doors to open" announcement is made, out come the ugly, chunky BlackBerrys. Most of them are still monochrome. In Europe, however, a BlackBerry is now what you buy if you don't buy an iPhone. (I know many people who have both.)

The BlackBerry isn't the best voice phone in the world, but neither is the iPhone. It does have a reputation of getting one or two things done very well, and of handling the rest (photos and music, and a bit of web) adequately. RIM never skimped on high quality screens and keyboards; there's a real assurance to that. As with the iPhone, its high word-of-mouth reputation does the marketing.

The ace that BlackBerry now has is BBM, the UI which for devotees is now the gateway to the entire phone. To see a BBM user in full flow, typically with a wired headset, scrolling away, is quite something. It makes you wonder why the phone giants have never done this properly, instead of focussing on all the cruft that comes with "personalisable Outlook screens". (Actually, the last few years of smartphone UI development pre-2007 were devoted to taking out UI features, and optimising one-handed use, which left the cupboard bare when Apple came along.)

While BBM was originally sold as a business tool, it's the ordinary people who are now the greatest users. Even only using a fraction of features in RIM's one minute demonstration video takes you quite a long way.

Ironically, Google sort of had the right idea with Nexus One, which was to make a stand-out product that got people talking. The error was insisting on doing Nexus One itself.

In short, Apple and RIM will continue to prosper because they focus relentlessly on user experience, and because they do one or two things well. This is a Good Thing. ®

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