Four and Half Years On

The lumbering, slumbering giant awakes…

The redoubtable Finnish giant, which started life in lumber and loo-rolls has rebooted itself as a manufacturer now of Windows Phone devices, while still producing the cheap and affordable handsets that, through M-PESA, more or less power the Kenyan and other African economies. I own a Lumia 800 and am very pleased with it, although for my taste it’s a little too small and I can’t wait for their up-coming larger 900. It’s pleasing and, I am sure a huge relief for Nokia and Microsoft, to see such enthusiastic pre-ordering and buzz for this device, running an operating system on which the futures of CEOs Ballmer and Ollila may well depend.

Blame the Berry…

I think it highly probable that the wrong turn Nokia took was due to the phenomenal success of the BlackBerry, a triumph whose shadow looms large over this past ten or so years. Like Palm, Sony and Nokia in their heydays, this giant seemed unassailable and impregnable, setting the standard that everyone else must follow. It defined the second age of Yuppyism. The ubiquitous Crackberry entered dictionaries and became a metonym and synecdoche for the corporate beast of the first decade of this century: eyes forever locked on the screen, urgently rolling up and down the thumb-wheel or tapping the keyboard. So much so indeed that newspapers, which have never exhibited the strongest understanding of the real meaning of evolution, postulated the wildly impossible Lamarckian future of children being born with stronger and more flexible thumbs …

Storm Clouds Loom

And then, again as a result of misjudging the meaning of the iPhone, the unthinkable happened. Research in Motion, the Canadian makers of the BlackBerry began to lose the plot. RIM had produced the wondrous Pearl, the magnificent Bold … how would they respond to Apple? Oh God help us with the Storm? This haptically clicking touchscreen monster was a disaster of almost unparalleled dimensions. The sound of them being thrown from office windows competed with the screaming down the landlines to their network providers of the outraged middle-management honchos who had “upgraded” to this cataclysmic failure. No one could be found who had anything but contempt for it.

The Bold and the Desperate…

Another attempt at Storming the citadel was made before, in desperation, RIM tried again, dropping the name Storm forever and attempting a kind of halfway house called the Torch which, while better, was still nothing to email home about, and nothing like what the market wanted in either direction. It annoyed the core BB faithful and had little to offer the young and the restless. So last year they had a shot at reviving the happier Bold brand, with a model that combined the by now de rigueur touchscreen and accelerometer with the original virtues of their finest, mid-season form candy-bar physical keyboard devices. That Bold, (I am fondling a 9790 as we speak) marks the last hurrah for RIM in the consumer market.

RIM’s leakage of millions in losses, the drop in share price from $140 to $14 in under three years, their desperately unhappy foray into the tablet market with the shame-makingly wrong and mismanaged BlackBerry Playbook (launched without an email app, god help us) has proved too much for founders Mike Lazarides and Jim Balsillie (yes that really is his name, what a childhood he must have endured) They have ‘stepped down’ as joint CEOs, and replacement Thorsten Heins has announced “A plan to refocus on the enterprise business and leverage on its leading position in the enterprise space” – and if you can understand what that means, then you’re just the kind of suck… just the kind of customer they’re after.

Even under the rim?

Whether Research In Motion’s name has been forever blackened and whether their once omnipotent push emailing services can survive the damage done their name and reputation by the failure of their consumer devices and the cripplingly embarrassing outage of their core services last year only time can tell, and time – as I keep repeating – rushes by so fast in this digital world. The mills of God may grind exceeding slow, but not the mills of Silicon Valley. IBM, Compuserve, AOL, MySpace, Alta Vista, Yahoo, Palm … these were names that our grandchildren and grandchildren’s grandchildren would whisper in awe until the crack of doom, surely? And as for Nokia, Sony, RIM and Microsoft – only a moron would ever connect their name with disappointment or accuse them of sipping at the last chance saloon. Who could doubt their eternal mastery of the universe?

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This blog was posted in Techblog

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