February 7, 2012

PROVING DARWINISM:

BLACKBERRY SEASON (James Surowiecki, FEBRUARY 13, 2012, The New Yorker)

[E]ven as the BlackBerry was at the height of its popularity, we were entering the age of what's inelegantly called the consumerization of I.T., or simply Bring Your Own Device. In this new era, technological diffusion started to flow the other way--from consumers to businesses. Social media went from being an annoying fad to an unavoidable part of the way many businesses work. Tablets, which many initially thought were just underpowered laptops, soon became common among salesmen, hospital staffs, and retailers. So, too, with the iPhone and Androids. They've always been targeted at consumers, and tend to come with stuff that I.T. departments hate, like all those extraneous apps. Yet, because employees love them, businesses have adapted (and the iPhone and Androids have upgraded security to make themselves more business-friendly). As a result, the iPhone and Androids now control more than half the corporate mobile market.

Consumerization has been disastrous for R.I.M., because the company has seemed clueless about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn't bring out a touch-screen phone until long after Apple, and the device that it eventually launched was a pale imitation of the iPhone. Although the BlackBerry brand name was once seen as a revolutionary success, over time R.I.M.'s product line became bewilderingly large, with inscrutable model names. If you're a consumer, do you want the 8300 or the seemingly identical 8330? And the BlackBerry's closed system has left R.I.M. ill equipped for a world in which phones and tablets are platforms for the whole app ecosystem.

The consumerization of I.T. has deep economic and social roots and is unlikely to go away. Technological innovation has dramatically lowered the cost of computing, making it possible for large numbers of consumers to own powerful new technologies at reasonably low prices. (Apple's products seem pricey, but despite the weak economy it has sold more than a hundred million iPhones and more than forty million iPads.) The workplace is changing, too. The barrier between work and home has been eroded, and if people are going to have to be constantly connected they want at least to use their own phones. Companies have quickly come to love consumerization, too: a recent study by the consulting firm Avanade found that executives like the way it keeps workers plugged in all day long. And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs. One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It's a brave new world. It's just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.

Demand drives evolution.


Posted by at February 7, 2012 7:03 AM
  

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