Yeah, RIM is dead

When I started working this past fall, I was given the option of several smartphones to use for work, ranging from Blackberry and iPhone to Android, Windows Phone, even Palm. At the time, I had just gotten my Incredible 2 so I was hoping to take the opportunity to try a different phone out. After some debate, I decided to go with the Blackberry Bold 9650 from Verizon. My reasoning at the time was I already had a fun, touch screen phone with the Incredible, so I just needed something that could make calls and do email for work. Blackberry is known for its email, security, and keyboard. Plus a lot of people around the office had one of these so it seemed like a good idea.

While I haven’t been disappointed by the Bold, it also hasn’t exactly impressed me. The email client is fine but that’s about as much it has going for it. I used to think that a keyboard would be important for emailing, but I’ve gotten used to typing on a touchscreen (the buttons on the 9650 are a little small too). A lot of people raved about Blackberry Messenger, but I’ve never found a use for it. What really brings the phone down though is the software. Blackberry OS just feels too much like a feature phone OS from the mid 2000s. The web browser is horrible and the app ecosystem is weak. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but even for work, apps can be important. Deloitte has a couple of proprietary apps that are either exclusive to or better on the iPhone.

I know newer iterations of the Bold have a touchscreen and a better keyboard, but unless they drastically improve the OS and app environment, I will probably get an iPhone next time I’m eligible for an upgrade (just to get some variety). I finally believe that RIM is dead now. Even if the new OS is as good as iOS and Android, it will already be too late and it surely won’t be enough to attract new customers. The only viable strategy I see for RIM (other than selling itself) is to focus on being the smartphone for the poor. RIM has had some success in developing countries and lower income consumers. If it can get its price point down and offer some of the functionality users want (messaging, Facebook, Twitter) RIM can become a niche player. The days of RIM being the corporate king though is over.

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(Not So) Recent Tech Roundup

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, but I finally got around to posting here again. A lot of tech announcements have come out during the last few months and instead of doing the in depth analysis of one or two news stories, I thought I would do a rapid fire quick reaction to each item and go back to them in the future if I think they warrant more discussion:

Spotify– I’ve been a vocal fan of this service before it came to the U.S. since I got to try it out in the UK. However, I’m still a little hesitant to pay for the premium streaming service. I admit streaming is very nice, but think about this: if you ever stop paying the subscription for any reason (cash is tight or Spotify goes out of business, which is entirely possible) you’re left with nothing. Yes buying a lot of music can be expensive too, but most people aren’t starting from scratch. You already have a decent mp3 library and maybe even some CDs still lying around. Also, unlike video, music is something that has a lot of replay value. Therefore you’re not constantly seeking new songs to listen to. Finally, Spotify’s library still has a lot of holes, and I’m not just talking about obscure indy music. Coldplay did not release their latest album on Spotify because they didn’t like the financial terms. So you still have to buy some music anyway. For now I’m using Google Music, which lets you upload your music and stream it on any laptop or Android device. It gives me the convenience of streaming while maintaining ownership of my music without a monthly fee.

Apple Education announcement– Many people know that I have always been critical of Apple and I was skeptical after hearing this announcement. Will it be successful for Apple bottom line? Sure it’s Apple. But will it really improve and revolutionize education as they claim? Not necessarily, especially since a large part of the problem in this country is the gap between wealthy and poor school districts. I did some quick back of the envelope type calculations and it’s hard to see how this will save school districts any money.

Let’s assume a typical K-12 textbook cost $150 and the school district can use it for 5 years before it is outdated or worn out. Let’s say a student takes 5 classes each year. Therefore, the annual cost per student under this traditional model is $150.

Now let’s see what happens if a school district decides to supply iPads to its students. We will assume that each student will get their own device and each student will have to pay for a copy of the e-textbook every year. I’m also going to be generous here and assume the iPads will be subsidized, either by the government or Apple, to a very low $300 for the 16G Wifi model  and the price ceiling on e-textbooks will remain at $15. In this scenario, we get an annual cost per student of $135.

This is a slight saving of $15 per student annually which could really add up for large school districts. However, we left out a few things from this quick exercise and made very optimistic assumptions about others. First off, there’s no guarantee educational iPads will be subsidized at all, much less by $200. Nor will e-textbook prices remain at a low $15. If these sales start significantly cannibalizing print sales, I can’t see the publishing companies just standing by idly. In addition, we’re assuming that an iPad will last 5 years. Aside from usual wear and tear (which you know will happen when you’re dealing with kids), tablet technology is progressing rapidly. If Apple continues its release cycle of at least one a year for iPads, the current iPad 2 will long be obsolete by 2017. And let’s not forget that not all schools have Wifi and schools will still need money for traditional computers. I don’t care how good the iPad becomes, there’s no way you’re writing an essay on it. Financially, it’s hard to see this model working in its present state.

Changes to Google search– A lot of hoopla was made over Google’s privacy policy change, but I think people should be more upset about Google’s efforts to make search social and individualized. To me, a big part of Google search’s appeal was that it was agnostic. It didn’t matter who was doing the search, you would all get the same results because its what Google’s algorithms objectively believed were the most relevant. If Google has its way though, everyone would in theory have different search results even if they looked up the same term. This is fine for a social network like Facebook, but for a search engine it just seems wrong. If not done properly, it could seriously erode the value of Google. Imagine how detrimental it would be if I used Google to look up a certain product, explore vacation destinations, or research a political candidate and I only got one side of the story. Philosophically, it represents a greater danger of “socializing” everything. In my opinion, part of the beauty of the Internet is to explore new information and ideas outside your worldview. For example, you can spend hours using the random article feature on Wikipedia to learn all sorts of random facts about anything and everything. By filtering the Internet based only on what you already know and like, you’re creating something that may be comfortable but closed minded.

Facebook IPO– Yes, everyone’s asking two questions: Will Facebook’s IPO soar like Google’s and should I get in on it? From an outsider’s perspective, I would say “yes” and “maybe.” I’m sure Facebook will pop like most IPOs, but there’s almost chance you will get in on it if you’re an average investor. Most of these shares will be going to employees and large institutional investors and by the time you get your hands on them, you will already be paying the post-pop price. Long term, I don’t think Facebook will fizzle like Linkedin, Zynga, and Groupon. It’s too big and demand is too high to run out of momentum. I don’t think we’re going to see run away growth a la Google’s early years either, at least not yet. Remember, Facebook did a lot of its growing as a private company and is already really saturated in its existing markets. However, I think they have two trump cards that can give them a long term boost. First, Facebook currently does not serve ads on its mobile site and apps. As mobile becomes ever more important though, I have no doubt they will monetize it eventually and see a financial windfall from it. Second, Facebook has yet to crack China and several other Asian markets. While American tech companies have had a mixed record in China, it would be one of the few ways for Facebook to significantly grow its user base. For Facebook shareholders, it will all be about timing and patience. Wait for the initial buzz to subside to buy in and then hold for one of these major events to happen.

Jeremy Lin– Not a tech story at all, but couldn’t resist. First off, I like this kid and I hope he succeeds. He’s smart and plays his heart out. Despite beating the Lakers though, I still think he’s overhyped and unlikely to be the Knick’s savior by any means. Let’s not forget that he’s putting these numbers up on a Knicks team with their top 2 scorers out. They’re desperate for any positive signs in an otherwise disappointing season, and he plays for D’antoni whose offense is really friendly for quick PGs who can shoot and make good decisions with the ball. We don’t know if he’ll still be effective once Carmelo and Stoudamire return, we don’t know if he can sustain this kind of effort over a full season, much less multiple season and probably most importantly he’s had a lot of turnovers, sometimes as many as his assists. I still think he can be an effective backup because of his smarts and handles. I can see him having a solid NBA career an energetic spark off the bench like J.J. Barea or Leandro Barbosa, but I wouldn’t bet on much more than that.