This last couple of years haven’t been the best for Research in Motion. No matter what they do, they seem to be attracting derision from all sides and seem unable to turn around the perception that they are a failing company in the eyes of US media.
With the mis-fired launch of the PlayBook and its delayed updates, the limited impact of BB7 and the further delays of the BlackBerry 10 phones, it seems as though everything’s bleak. RIM is pushing the company to the brink as sales are falling and confidence in the company’s ability to deliver, by both pundits and fans, is gradually eroded.
I was thinking about what RIM could do over the next year to maintain trust and interest in what they are doing. From my perspective I have 10 BlackBerry ‘paper cuts’ that have annoyed me and irritated me for too long now. If they could get these things fixed now before the new phones hit, then they benefit those phones, the current phones AND make BlackBerry users happier. For now.
1. Fast two-way Sync
There have been quite a few improvements over the past few years between BlackBerry and GMail. Google recently discontinued the app, but as most BlackBerry smartphones support GMail through the native email app now, it is understandable that there’s no longer a need for Google to support this app.
It’s great that BlackBerrys will synchronise email, calendars and contacts (more on the others later), but it doesn’t work well both ways.
When I read or delete an email from my BlackBerry, it will immediately be read or deleted online. Brilliant. Unfortunately, if I do the same online first – the changes can take a while to propagate to the phone. This means that I would probably end up performing the same action twice. It’s irritating and I really wish this was a little smoother.
2. Multiple Calendar Sync
One of my biggest bugbears has been that each BlackBerry account only allows for one calendar to be connected. I have a Google Apps account with multiple caledars for my various different roles. What I would love to see is an ability to have those calendars accessible and editable through the BlackBerry calendar app.
I CAN create an extra GMail account, set up a new calendar and share it with my original account – but this is just too much work, and I imagine some people would need more than 10 calendars. As the BlackBerry only supports 10 inboxes on your phone, this isn’t cool whichever way you look at it.
In fairness, you do get additional calendar events on your phone, but changes don’t get sent back – and they all appear as the same colour and calendar on the phone.
3. The Push Egg Basket
“Never put all your eggs in one basket” I was told when I was younger, and still get reminded about it occasionally by grown-ups who think that I should know better. But that’s what RIM seems to do with some of its 3rd party service apps.
Facebook and Twitter both rely on RIM’s very impressive ‘push’ service. What this does is notify you of alerts and massages instantly on your BlackBerry phone. It is how the emails are delivered and how BBM ticks.
The problem is when notifications go wide. Once that happens, Facebook and Twitter both live in blissful ignorance of the fact that they do not know that they have missed something.
A small thing, but it would be nice if they could reconcile these alerts when the app is active to ensure that none are missed. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s damn infuriating when it does and I have to either use the website or another app.
4. Smoother Contact Sync with 3rd Parties
OK – something that does wind me up is when my contacts are mucked about. BlackBerry and Google Apps are guilty of this.
The native contact sync is great, and there’s no doubt that this is why Google have pulled their GMail app from support. When it was initially released, there was a clear need and now there isn’t. RIM’s internet service (BIS) does this for you now, along with contacts and calendar sync.
However, there is a problem. BIS doesn’t seem to respect or treat Google address fields the same as BlackBerry ones. Addresses are regularly merged onto a single line, and in some cases, the first line of the address can be dropped. Birthdays are also not synced despite both services having a date of birth field.
This has happened to me enough times to become an issue. Now that Google have enhanced their contact system over the last year maybe RIM could revisit this and fix the sync issues. While they’re at it, any BlackBerry fields that aren’t in Google contacts could be stored in custom fields.
Now there’s some backup and sync goodness right there!
5. It’s All About The Memory
A big issue that dogs BlackBerry acceptance is that these devices and slow, unreliable and dated. The problem? Memory. But not any memory – it’s app storage.
On BlackBerry smartphones, there is a specific area where apps and app data is stored. For some reason, likely technical ones, there is never a time when you have more than 150MB on any device.
To put it in perspective, 3 years ago I bought a BlackBerry Pearl 8120. The phone had 64MB of onboard memory. Once you account for the OS as well, you’re left with very little to play with.
And then you start installing apps. I remember having about 3 or 4 and no more. You see, if a BlackBerry starts running out of app memory then it starts to delete your old messages.
This is why users have to reboot BlackBerry phones. Once the memory starts being using by running apps, performance drops and then things go wrong. A hard reboot (or battery pull) will put it all right again until the next time. If only RIM would bulk up the memory on these phones before releasing them, then I think there would be a lot of happier BlackBerry users.
Here’s a hint for RIM: Work out how much memory the phone would need in two years’ time. Then double that value. That’s the amount you should have available for apps and application data.
6. Not North American? That’s A Problem…
Considering that the USA is a difficult territory for BlackBerry at the moment, I still struggle to understand why the rest of the world is excluded from a number of RIM-made apps for the BlackBerry:
- BlackBerry News
- BlackBerry Traffic
These apps, especially BlackBerry Traffic, add a lot of built-in functionality to BlackBerry smartphones. Yet they seem to be exclusively available to a region that seems to be least appreciative of the efforts.
There’s a whole other world out there, and whatever reasons these apps are being kept back should be addressed so everyone can have an equal BlackBerry experience.
I have seen BlackBerry News and Podcasts appear on my BlackBerry Bold 9900, so all is not lost – but please RIM, all these value-added services should be available wherever you are if you’re a BlackBerry user.
7. Stop Selling Old Phones
I’ll tell you why some people hate BlackBerry phones. It’s because their experience has been with a low-end phone like the Curve 8520. It probably has the stock OS installed (4.5) and has never been updated.
This is exactly where the bad feeling comes. These phones are being sold right now to new mobile users on cheap tariffs. I don’t have any problem with this, but the average consumer thinks that one BlackBerry is the same as all the others.
Having so many devices available to consumers at multiple price points in a number of form-factors is great – but there is no way for them to realise how much of a difference a newer, slightly higher-end BlackBerry will make. Missing features, an awful browser and lack of decent hardware specs. These devices quite simply should not be sold in high-end markets. In fact, the handsets with the old web browser should either have a new OS update expressly to bring the updated WebKit browser, or there should be an offer made to upgrade pre-OS6 devices for a very good deal. A very good deal.
If they hate their current BlackBerry, they may love a newer, better one but they don’t know. Like I said, they may have just bought an 8520 thinking it’s a ‘new’ phone, but it really drags down the respect of the brand to those not in the know and who want a great smartphone experience.
We really don’t want BlackBerry users to say ‘I can’t stand my BlackBerry, I want a different phone’, which is exactly what they’ll do.
8. Great Apps
Alright, this isn’t a great area for RIM, but things are improving. With over 2 billion AppWorld downloads, respect is there and RIM really do seem to be trying to get more developers on board.
There are key apps that people are starting to expect in mobile phones. Skype, as a classic example, has very limited availability on BlackBerry – it’s only available on certain networks and even then isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing experience. On the PlayBook, it’s ominous in its absence. It’s a shame that if I want to use Skype at home, I have to grab my iPod because none of my BlackBerry devices can run Skype.
RIM needs to keep pushing. So do the fans. For some reason, Skype are unwilling to put an app on the BlackBerry PlayBook, despite it being the precursor to the BlackBerry 10 phones later this year – yet they had an app for the HP TouchPad. A device that was killed off before it was released! Obviously there are deals to be made, and I hope that the coming year will see more mature ‘big hitter’ apps making it into BlackBerry space.
9. Stop Fair-Weather Carriers From Tarnishing the BlackBerry Brand
In the past, USA-based carriers have seen BlackBerry as a cash-cow. Let’s make no mistake here, BlackBerrys have been around for years now, and carriers have loved them.
What carriers love about BlackBerry handsets is that they have a huge amount of control over what software can be run on the phone, and what features are enabled or disabled. The problem is that carriers in the US like to charge for things that the BlackBerry can do for ‘free’.
As an example, BlackBerry Bridge – which allows you to use a BlackBerry PlayBook on the internet for free – was blocked by AT&T. One of the key selling points of the PlayBook was undermined and didn’t become available for AT&T customers until that feature was removed so that they could charge their customers a tethering fee. This past year.
Other moves by US carriers have been to block music stores to enforce their own ones, remove BlackBerry Maps and force carrier-based software onto the phone. Of course, you can have it back. For a price. Could you imagine picking up an Android or iOS device and have to pay for a map application because the carrier removed it?
It’s a shame that RIM allows such control over their phones. In turn, it damages the BlackBerry user experience, the brand, and mind-share. Yet this practise is still prevalent now, and until carriers realise that they are cutting their own nose off to spite their face – they will continue to harm the cash-cow that they love so much.
10. Let Us Be Involved
BlackBerry is a brand with a great deal of loyalty, and BlackBerry fans want to help BlackBerry phones be the best out there. Let us take part in that process.
It’s great to see so much going on in the BlackBerry Beta Zone so that you can get feedback for upcoming apps. The social network appeal that has been changing over the last couple of years has been a great turnaround, but you can do more.
Why not engage with the community on fan sites on occasion? Allow serious BlackBerry users to brainstorm ideas in groups.
And my bugbear: let me report bugs and get some response! It is so difficult to report problems and know that they are being taken seriously or even acknowledged. It would be great if that if I have found a problem, I can report it. Then later I can get a reply to know if it’s known, or if it will be looked at later. Maybe allow me to offer more information if needed.
There are other things RIM can do to engage more, these are just a few ideas. RIM has a marketing team and a community team. I’d love to see some really creative thinking from them in this regard.
Of course there’s more! But there are probably the most irritating things on a BlackBerry handset right now. Let’s not forget that these phones are also great in many other ways. The Bold 9900, for instance, has what I can only describe as the most perfect keyboard I’ve used on any mobile device.
If RIM can fix these ‘paper cuts’ this year, before the super phones are available, it will do so much more than just create good will. They just need to be bold enough.