The downward spiral of RIM, the maker of the Blackberry, is never far from the news these days.
RIM’s share price has dropped by a staggering 75% in the last year and in June the company announced around 6000 job cuts as part of a $1bn cost reduction program.
But even in this context, yesterday’s smartphone market share numbers from Gartner were still eye-catching to say the least. Blackberry’s market share has now slipped to 1.9%, down from 3% last year and 20% in 2008 when the Canadian company was at the height of its powers. I knew their problems were bad but I had no idea their market share had dropped to this level. Less then 2 people out of 100 now use a Blackberry – unbelievable.
It made me reflect on the speed of change in the technology world and how this is getting even faster, propelled by trends such as the consumerization of IT, the rise of mobile devices and the democratizing powers of the internet. In just four years Blackberry has gone from the corporate world’s must have gadget to complete irrelevance.
It got me thinking about the current high fliers – Android and Apple’s iOS – and whether they could suffer a similar fate. My thinking is that the situation is different now and that these two platforms will dominate the mobile device market for many years to come. So what’s changed? The big difference is that both these platforms have built huge eco-systems of third party developers bringing millions of new applications to their users. There is a strong network effect here whereby more users bring more app developers who create more apps and in turn attract more users. I know of very few app developers who are looking beyond the iOS and Android platforms – with limited resources and access to the vast majority of the market why would you bother?
This platform strategy is the reason why I think these two vendors will continue to consolidate their dominant positions for the foreseeable future. Imagine how difficult it will be the challenge them. You not only have to build a great device and invest millions in your brand and distribution, but also, after all that, have to persuade the app developer community that your is a platform worth developing on even though your market share is virtually non-existent. If you don’t believe me just ask Microsoft!
I think this is the big mistake that Blackberry made. They were laser-focused on building a device that was secure and delivered great email and phone capabilities. But in striving for business strength security and reliability their approach was based on a closed and proprietary system. They never saw themselves as an open platform and, by the time they realized their mistake, it was too late.
For me this perfectly illustrates the power of a platform strategy. Building a platform is a high risk, high reward strategy. You need invest heavily in building a meaningful user base and you also need to treat your third party developers as another set of customers. But if you can pull it off you are much better protected against new competitors and the frightening speed of the technology world.