I never thought I would hear it, but the buzz on the streets of Essex, that trend-setting county just east of London, is that Research in Motion (RIM)’s BlackBerry handsets have now replaced Apple’s iPhone as the gadget of choice. I should immediately qualify this “finding” as purely anecdotal research, based on a conversation with my 13-year-old niece this past weekend regarding her latest phone, acquired because, as all parents will recognise, “all her friends have got one”. It doesn’t seem five minutes since she was demanding the latest iPhone, hence my surprise that the BlackBerry has risen so rapidly in the teenage desirability league table, at the expense of the apparently unstoppable iPhone.
My colleague, Andy Brown
, our resident RIM expert, assures me that the Canadian company has been promoting the BlackBerry as a consumer device for some years, largely by advertising it in the hands of celebrities. In spite of those efforts I would argue that it is still commonly perceived as a business-centric device. Nevertheless, consumer sales of BlackBerrys have been rising rapidly, contributing to RIM’s impressive overall performance in the mobile phone market
I was obviously keen to learn why today’s younger teenagers are apparently bucking the accepted trend towards using touchscreen, button-free devices. The QWERTY keyboard, according to my niece, is in fact one of the appealing features of the BlackBerry, since typing messages is so much easier. And it turns out that messaging appears to lie at the heart of RIM’s success in this segment: the ability for young friends to send each other messages using RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, completely free of charge, has huge appeal to the device’s owners as well as their parents, concerned at rising monthly bills.
So the obvious question is, what happened to the apparently eternal appeal of an unlimited choice of apps, as well as 4” touchscreen displays? At least for this small sample, it seems they are now considered of secondary importance. For my niece and her group of friends, the ability to stay in touch via near-constant, rapid messaging, and at zero additional cost, is what matters most. Whether that will be the case as they get older remains to be seen, but it’s a reminder that one device format is unlikely to suit the needs of all segments, however successful a particular product may appear.
“With iPhone, every handset works the same,” said Apple’s Steve Jobs during yesterday’s results call
. Yes, Steve, they do: and it seems, amazingly enough, that some people really don’t need it that way.
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