Research in Motion Ltd (RIM) has helped transform the way that many of us work today. And, like Apple, their form factor is so simple and so useful, that all the competitors that have come to the market have yet to take any significant market share.
I got my first Blackberry in late 2000, when my company was looking to develop its first wireless application. At the time, only technology executives were using them. By mid-2001, the major investment banks began rolling them out to their bankers. Going into the 2004 elections, all the political operatives got them, and today, whenever I sit down on a train or a plane, the person next to me is inevitably thumbing a quick message.
By 2002-2003, all the key industry players were lining up to become the Blackberry killer. Microsoft launched its Pocket PC software, Palm launched its Treo, and the mobile phone manufacturers began to introduce their offerings, with T-Mobile launching the Danger Sidekick. The screen of the Pocket-PC-based iPaq and others was superior, and the Treo offered a better phone, yet the Blackberry still prevailed, because the team at RIM never lost focus. It was a wireless email device and performed its job extremely well. The thumb-based interface takes only a half-day or so to master. Palm grafiti, for example, was probably only mastered by 10% of the users, so most Palm users use it primarily as a read-only version of their Outlook calendar.
The opportunity is to create the second killer app for the Blackberry. Email is clearly a dominant application, but I expect that in the next few years we will see the next round of wireless applications. The app I worked on in 2000-2001, event notification, seemed a natural fit for I-banks and others who needed to keep up on critical news events without getting “alert overload” but didn’t catch on for various reasons. The early email bots (like Halibot) were great but the companies couldn’t figure out how to monetize the traffic and largely faded away. With a huge installed base of professional users, the Blackberry market seems ripe for b2b content applications, which should create strong opportunities for forward-thinking content providers. In the meantime, through it’s simple interface, it’s consistent performance, and most importantly, its focus, RIM is clearly one of my 50 content companies that matter.