End of Line (not yet)

I once was a Blackberry addict who clinched on my handset and BBM’ed my friends all day. The blinking red light seemed to have some sort of Jedi power because I couldn’t resist checking my messages once the light started to blink. From this description, I have displayed a typical Blackberry user’s obsessive behaviour. However, I am now using an iPhone4 and I honestly don’t miss my Blackberry one bit (well, maybe the physical keyboard). Why is that? In short, I can sum it up in one reason: lack of emotion. Before I get into more detail, let me explain what emotion I am exactly talking about.

If you have ever watched any Apple’s videos of its products, they are very engaging because the videos have a strong narrative component. Watching the Apple videos is like watching the movie “Objectified” that shows the poetic side of the products. This allows consumers to become emotionally-engaged to the products because they see the design effort that is put into them. Products have become more than just “objects”.

From this, Apple demonstrates itself as an excellent story-teller. It shows its consumers the process of designing its products through engaging stories. Apple is able to communicate these messages without getting into the technicals so that the general consumers can understand them. This is one of the reasons why Apple is able to generate a high level of excitement and interest whenever it is launching a new product. The importance of storytellers in product development is discussed by Sarah Doody on her recent UX’s article. It highlights the disadvantages of  the traditional large corporation structure because teams are “disconnected” and the original vision got lost in the process like the childhood game of “Telephone”. This is the same problem that RIM is facing.

Based on a recent article on Business Insider by an ex-RIM staff , he describes most design decisions are made by the engineers. They are all very capable engineers; however, the lack of involvement and voices from other design teams is immediately a red flag to me (looking at it from a User Experience designer’s perspective). Also, the writer suggests that RIM lacks the understanding of creative process and does not really foster the design culture. It is no wonder why there is no story behind the design if the emphasis of design is not even present. To me, there is no “soul” in any of Blackberry’s devices. There are no emotions involved. Without it, how can RIM expect to generate interest and excitement from the consumers for launching a new product.

You might start to think I am just another Apple fan-boy who is trying to troll RIM. As a matter of fact, it is far from the truth. As I recall, the 8900 Curve is probably one of the best smartphones that I have ever owned. It is a solid, capable communication device. It kept me connected with all my peers (through SMS, emails, BBM) and definitely enhanced my daily work. RIM’s push notification system is still the best in class in regards to reliability and security (I still have my doubts about the new push from Apple as far as reliability goes, not the UI). However, this is the only memorable experience that I can recall.

My experience with Blackberry’s devices illustrates the two problems that RIM is facing:

  1. If a better push notification is developed (Apple iOS5 in this case), RIM will lose its appeal since it is a big selling feature for the company.
  2. Blackberry’s devices are utilitarian. Its OS and hardware do not have the same “sex appeal” as other smartphones on the market now. This is a subject that is mentioned by the ex-RIM staff who wrote the the BI’s article.

The above reasons show why RIM is having such a difficult time to expand and defend its consumers’ share in the market. RIM can not rely on its push system and expect it will defend its market share. Clearly, this does not work. It is difficult for RIM to build a relationship with its consumers, if the consumers fail to connect with the products emotionally. In today’s competitive smartphone’s market, company can not just rely on features to retain customers and expand their market shares. This strategy is short-living. Customers will leave as soon as there is a replacement (better or close enough).

This is why a carefully designed user experience is so crucial. An enjoyable, consistent, and meaningful user experience will help company to build loyalty from its customers, which is discussed in the article “An Iterative Approach to Innovation Strategy” by Paul Noble-Campbell.

So what’s the future for RIM? I think there is still lots of life in RIM’s future. It needs to focus on its user experience design and takes the necessary action to overcome the challenges that the company is currently facing. The window of opportunity is closing but it is definitely not closed yet.

2 Responses to “End of Line (not yet)”
  1. davidh3d says:

    Your passion for ui design is evident here. A well researched blog post and good points. I recently got an iPhone myself, and I’m blown away. Apple simply offers a superior product, albeit at a ‘superior’ price haha.

    • Billy So says:

      I think you purchase at the right time since iOS5 is right around the corner. The update iOS addresses all the minor issues that are much needed. Another good thing about iPhone is its high resell value. =)

      I am eager to try a Window7 mobile phone. Its UI is absolutely gorgeous.

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