Monday, 10 February 2014

What can BlackBerry do to produce a successful consumer device?

BlackBerry has announced that they will move focus to Enterprise.  This has been taken by some to mean that they will exit the consumer market.  To add more gloom to the chances for BlackBerry in the consumer realm Carrier support has faded for BlackBerry products in the face of irrelevant sales.  Or you could argue with some merit that BlackBerry sales have faded in the consumer realm because of the lack of support from carriers.  

So what’s next for the potential BlackBerry consumer, is it the end of the line? 

Evidence is to the contrary.  In one of John Chen's recent interviews he discussed this very point and was adamant that he will continue to supply BlackBerry devices for the consumer. One of my favourite John Chen quotes to date isWhen I go after the consumer through these stores again, it's not going to happen the same way again. When I'm ready to make that move, we're going to have another conversation”.  That’s fighting talk! And from a man with John Chen’s record I am minded to take even off the cuff remarks seriously.  (Interestingly it is rumoured that BlackBerry are currently testing a quad core smartphone, code named “Ontario”).

So this brings me to the point of these mutterings, what makes a successful mobile phone? Well the answer is not futuristic specifications, a great quality finish or a fantastic User Interface (UI).  What makes a successful mobile phone is simply successful sales figures.  This blindingly obvious statement then begs the question of, how do you generate successful sales? Again the question points to the answer.   Successful sales are generated by producing a device people buy in numbers that allow the manufacturer to make a profit. 

Okay, it’s simple, for BlackBerry to sell relevant numbers of consumer mobile phones they need to put something on the shelves that people want to buy.

We now have the answer to BB’s problems!  Well not quite, we now have to ask how do BlackBerry or any other phone maker sell devices that people actually want?

Looking to the past is always useful when plotting for the future so I took a journey down mobile phone memory lane to find the most successful mobile devices and was surprised at what I found.

The top selling mobiles phones in all of their short history is

With an honourable mention going to the beautiful BlackBerry Pearl: 15 million sold!

BlackBerry's slimmed down enterprise phone was a must for all aspirational executives. Without any significant marketing campaign, many retailers had sold out within the first few days after launch. In 2009, RIM sold its 50 millionth BlackBerry smartphone, selling 7.8 million smartphones in one quarter alone. The Pearl remains one of the most popular BlackBerry smartphones to come out of Waterloo. 

Number 10: The Nokia N70/N72/N73: Sold about 45 million
One of Nokia's first widely available 'smartphone' , the Nokia N-series devices were equipped with Symbian 60 and high-resolution cameras. In 2009, Nokia was selling more than 400 million devices.  In one quarter alone, Nokia sold more than 9 million of these phones, making the N-series range one of the more popular ranges on offer.

This tiny phone was one of the simplest, easy to use and basic phones on the market. There was nothing particularly good about it by today's standards but it was incredibly cheap to buy and was sturdy in design. It was claimed to be the cheapest unlocked GSM handset on the U.S. market during the mid-2000s. 

Number 9: The Apple iPhone 4S sold more than 60 million
After numerous rumours and speculation, those who held out realized there wouldn't be another iPhone for a while jumped at the chance to buy the iPhone 4S, with Apple selling a record four million handsets in the first weekend.  

Number 8: is Nokia's 5130 handset, it sold about 65 million.  The was the first "music" phone from Nokia. It was particularly popular in emerging markets, thanks to the inclusion of the Opera Mini browser, allowing users to conserve data on the go. But equally, it was popular among Westerners who found the device to have a nice mix of high-quality audio and cellular features.

Number 7: is the Nokia 6010.  It sold approximately 75 million of these  entry-level handsets worldwide. While U.S. and European markets were important, emerging markets still hold the vast bulk of Nokia's revenue. The handset started shipping in the second quarter of 2004 and sold out in huge quantities. There were two additional iterations, the 6020 and the 6030.

Number 6: is an unremarkable and cheap, no frills phone, the Nokia 1208 was released in 2007 and sales passed the 100 million mark. Thanks to no camera, it was one of the cheapest phones available from any manufacturer.  It was on the market for some time and cost as low as $34 in India and as much as $122 in Singapore. Partially thanks to the success of this phone, Nokia had more than 39 percent market share for the first quarter of 2008, according to Gartner figures

Number 5: Nokia sold around 130 million Nokia 1600 handsets when it first launched, mainly thanks to its popularity in the pre-paid market. An unusual factor with this handset was its pre-installed games, notably soccer, which was extremely popular among Asian and African markets. The phone was originally released in developing countries, but also saw massive sales in North America. 

Nokia sold around 135 million Nokia 2600 series handsets from 2004 when the device first went on sale. An unremarkable phone, it was one of the first handset series' by the company to feature a colour display, but did not include a camera.
This kept the cost down and made it hugely popular thanks to its low price tag. Incremental updates in the 2610, 2626 and the 2630 handsets had additional hardware capabilities and functionality.

One of the most robust phones ever made, the Nokia 3310 remains one of the most best known devices on the planet. An estimated 136 million Nokia 3310 and 3330 handsets have been sold since the phone first launched just before Christmas 2000. By 2005, there were 126 million units.

Not surprisingly a Nokia wins the top spot. 
One summer in 2005, a man in Nigeria found a mobile phone shop, put his money down on the counter, and left with a cellphone: a Nokia 1100. Statistically, this was likely his first handset. It was probably a personal milestone for that man but it was a huge milestone for Nokia. It was their billionth phone sold.

In buying that phone, this man was joining a slightly smaller club. Along with 250,000,000 others he became a Nokia 1100 user. he had moved into the world of instant communications by buying this robust and simple device.

The Nokia 1100 may look crude to "sophisticated" western eyes but its sales figures made Nokia a global success.  This was a basic, monochrome display phone. Perfect for those with little disposable income, it doesn't have a camera or email or a colour display, but it sold because of its extremely low price, Launched in 2003, it may not have reached the cumulative success of Apple's iPhone, which altogether have sold more than 300 million, but it surpasses each iPhone iteration by a long shot.

So we return to the question.  What makes a successful mobile phone.  aside from the iPhone the array of low cost and generally uninspiring handsets above appears to indicate that if you make it cheap it will be a success.

That answer is wrong.  Nokia did not just make cheap handsets, they targeted specific markets with specific features on their handsets.  The Nokia 1100 was targeted at first time users in emerging markets. It is pretty much drop proof, the tacky keyboard was sealed and proof against rain showers. The software installed was simple for a novice and had numerous help files because Tech Support was not easily available in the markets it served.  It was a perfectly targeted consumer device.

Apple do exactly as Nokia did.  The Apple iPhone range is targeted with laser precision at people with excess money to spend, the devices look and feel like a very high end piece of equipment, it is simple to use for a novice but contrives to make a user feel clever as they work through the UI. 

It appears that the re-invented BlackBerry, under John Chen have learned a very important lesson. They are in the process of launching a device specific to a target market, Indonesia. This device should be priced at a level that is affordable for that market and importantly have enough bespoke features to make it relevant in that market. 

If Indonesia works then the next steps are handsets designed specifically for South Africa then India closely followed by China.  The future is by no means certain, but the plan is sound!