If you occasionally read articles about Research In Motion and BlackBerry, you'll often see a focus - almost obsession - with the chances of BlackBerry ousting Apple and Android as the dominant platform.
As the world continues with the adoption of smartphones and the sales numbers swell, who is the biggest vendor and sells the most is almost irrelevant. Surely when you go to get your car repaired you don't obsess about which mechanic is cooler or fixes the most cars, but which one actually provides the best service. As long as there are plenty of customers, this isn't a problem.
The mechanics' problem comes when two mechanics open shop right next to each other. That's when the customers start to choose one over the other.
So far, BlackBerry have enjoyed a very strong relationship with the large enterprises. The end-to-end security has ensured that despite losing market share in the consumer space, they've had steady revenue.
But the other big hitter, Microsoft, is set up next door and looking for the same business.
Before we focus on Microsoft, let's look at RIM's diminishing market share in real terms. While Apple and Google (or Samsung at least) are grabbing headlines for selling a large number of units and almost creating a duopoly of smartphone systems, the BlackBerry share in North America is dwindling. More headlines. What these headlines fail to account for is The Message. RIM is pushing The Message that BlackBerry 10 is going to be a platform, something much more than a mobile phone operating system.
This matters a great deal because if you think of BlackBerry devices as including QNX embedded systems then things look rather different. With RIM’s purchase of QNX Software Systems in 2010, they didn’t just purchase a software maker, they purchased a company that had its operating system out there in embedded systems already (See http://www.qnx.com/company/30ways/ - 30 Ways QNX Touches Your Life). If you account for QNX as well, then I'd wager that there are a heck of a lot more RIM devices out there than Apple iOS and Android handsets.
In fact, if we're talking about DEVICES running BBOS and QNX - then the BlackBerry numbers surely dominate the figures?
I can only think of one other company that loves the enterprise and also develops a number of embedded systems. Yep, we're back to Microsoft.
Microsoft are not quite usurping the top phone OSes with their Windows Phone at the moment, but thanks to their heritage in software development tools, they are courting their potential app developers through active and existing channels. But what Microsoft really want for developers is to make the process attractive. Enter Windows 8, an OS that you can write an app for and that app will work on the desktop, laptop, tablet AND phone! What developer wouldn't be tempted.
At this point, we can cast our minds to how the enterprise works. Just as RIM have BlackBerry servers and phones in the big organisations, Microsoft are there with mail servers, desktops and critical software. What Microsoft have very shrewdly started to offer IT managers is a way extend the experience from servers, to computers and finally to mobile devices. Imagine using the same CRM software, no matter what device you use? It could save huge amounts of money, reduce staff training and also make your workforce more versatile. It's almost as though it's a foregone conclusion that Microsoft will eventually dominate this space.
Fortunately, the BlackBerry 10 Platform has a few tricks up its sleeve, too. BlackBerry Balance will make BlackBerry 10 phones easier to manage than any other BYOD (bring-your-own device). Plus, BlackBerry Fusion can manage all of these devices, which means that while enterprises allow their employees the use of their own phones, BlackBerry will be there and have them covered.
While this BYOD culture exists - BlackBerry still has something to offer enterprises that Microsoft does not. However, should the attitudes to device management in the enterprise change, who knows where we'll see enterprises focus their efforts.
Which brings us nicely back to the consumer space. With 79+ million subscribers, I believe that the BlackBerry brand is stronger than Windows Phone, but not as strong as Microsoft. That's a big deal. While BlackBerry has its heels dug in with the enterprise space alongside Microsoft, it will only be as strong as the consumer demand for BlackBerry 10 next year.
Microsoft and Nokia aren't quite setting the world on fire with the latest Windows 8 phones, but they are pushing forward and starting to gain momentum in the minds of mobile users. Microsoft's focus on ubiquity is almost as much a game changer as the focus on flow and transition that we have seen in BlackBerry 10 previews. If the consumer demand for BlackBerry 10 doesn't meet expectations and exceed the demand for Windows Phone, Research In Motion could find themselves in a very difficult situation as they fight to hold on to the enterprise.
So when you see the media compare BlackBerry to Apple or Android - they are really not the ones to watch. Microsoft has not only set up next door to RIM - they want to offer the complete service to their customers through a heritage they've built on Windows. Something RIM just cannot do. RIM needs to sell BlackBerry 10 to consumers to push their enterprise advantage, otherwise the enterprise may just slip through their fingers.
The major players are drawing the battle-lines and we are seeing a new trend emerging in what people expect from mobile computing. BlackBerry might have a good chance of making up lost ground with Apple and Google, but they should keep an eye on that rear-view mirror as RIM’s real threat, Microsoft, won’t be making this race easy at all.
One way or another, 2013 is going to be a spectacular year for mobile computing.