The BlackBerry device and its maker, Research in Motion, were in serious trouble even before last week’s global service outage.
More than 30 per cent of BlackBerry users in large companies said in September, a month before the outage, that they were looking to use a different smartphone model in 2012, according to a survey of 243 smartphone users in companies with more than 10,000 workers by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).
“With last week’s outage, I suspect the 30 per cent number is even higher,” said Steven Brasen, the EMA analyst who conducted the survey. “User satisfaction with BlackBerry is by far the lowest of smartphones. A huge number are dissatisfied.”
Brasen said the survey found that 11 per cent of BlackBerry users in large companies are “completely dissastisfied” with the device, while only two per cent of iPhone users and no of Android users are completely dissatisfied with their smartphones.
Brasen said the opinions of end users are becoming very important to IT executives.
EMA, Forrester and other IT research firms say the majority of new smartphones now used in workplaces are brought in by users who either pay for the smartphones themselves or get reimbursed by their employers.
“The apps are not available on the BlackBerry like they are on the other smartphones and users feel more personally productive on iPhone and Android than with corporate BlackBerry devices,” Brasen said.
“Now that end users are taking control, they are moving away from BlackBerry,” he added. “It’s the end users that are driving IT.”
Because of the increasing importance of end-user opinions, the traditional allure of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and its security and management capabilities to large companies has faded, Brasen said.
The shift to end-user control is behind Brasen’s belief that RIM’s new BBX operating system introduced on Tuesday is likely to fall flat.
“It’s too little, too late,” Brasen said of BBX, noting that a heterogeneous platform had been promised in June but was not unveiled until this week’s BlackBerry DevCon conference in San Francisco. “I don’t see how RIM can radically alter the path they’ve been on.”
Several BlackBerry developers and commenters on the forums on CrackBerry.com also complained that RIM has not yet given a rollout timetable for QNX OS-based BBX, which is designed to run RIM’s PlayBook tablet, smartphones and embedded systems.
“Just look at all of the chatter and disappointment … regarding the BBX announcement,” wrote one commenter, HofstraJet. “RIM has made a lot of promises and hasn’t delivered much. I anxiously await the future [and] just hope RIM doesn’t make me wait too long.”
Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner who on Monday had commended RIM for offering free apps or a free month of support to customers after the outage, said BBX is just a new name for what RIM had been planning for awhile.
“The fact that QNX was going to span both handhelds and tablets was always the intent,” Dulaney said. “There was no surprise with BBX except the changed name.”
He noted that Android has already adopted a similar cross-platform strategy.
Still, many BlackBerry developers at DevCon praised the BBX announcement, though analysts said they are holding on to RIM’s legacy while end-users take their business to other manufacturers.
Dulaney also noted that RIM must change the interface of the PlayBook tablet for it to compete successfully against the Apple iPad and varius Android-based tablets. “If the next Playbook user interface is not a radical departure to compete with Apple and Android, it may not be enough to change their fortunes on high growth touchscreens,” he said.
Dulaney said that based on calls from Gartner clients, the EMA survey findings that many BlackBerry users want to switch to another smartphone “wouldn’t be out of the question.”
Dulaney said RIM’s future depends more on getting new customers in emerging markets than on keeping existing customers happy.
One manager of BlackBerry devices at a large southern university, who asked not to be named, gave RIM a vote of confidence, even after last week’s outage caused a temporary loss of browser capabilities for users at the school.
“RIM has worked extensively with us to accomplish our desired operations and we will continue using their technology for our project,” the manager said. “We hope that RIM’s future plans and developments continue to grow their products and services.”
While RIM has thousands of entrenched corporate customers worldwide, some were shaken by last week’s outage.
Newfoundland Power, a division of Canada-based Fortis, said the outage prompted plans to look at alternatives for 200 BlackBerry users there, said Melvin Goodyear, an infrastructure analyst.
“Enterprises are open to other platforms,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. “Enterprises have been affected perhaps the most by BlackBerry outages, compared to consumers. The most recent outage was not the first but it sure was the biggest.”
Relative smartphone newcomers like Apple, Samsung, Motorola and others “have leveled the playing field, providing choice,” Llamas said.
“My belief is that enterprises that have been looking for other solutions will use the most recent outage as their biggest reason to make the change. I’ve heard several smaller enterprises make this very remark, and I’m sure they’re not the only ones,” he added.