How can you tell when a company is in trouble? When the CEO bashes a rising competitor’s strategy while copying it at the same time. Such is the unfortunate predicament with our friends to the north, Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry.
Earlier this week, RIM CEO Jim Balsillie proclaimed that “We believe that you can bring the mobile to the Web but you don’t need to go through some kind of control point of an SDK, and that’s the core part of our message”, effectively declaring that Apple is an enemy of freedom or whatever is regarded to be bad at the moment while making the case for its vaporous PlayBook tablet. At the same time, the company unveiled an ad campaign for BlackBerry as the platform of choice for “Super Apps,” which are, wait for it, applications that bring mobile to the Web through an SDK. Basically, they’re like iPhone apps, but of far lower quality.
There’s a lot to criticize here, but I’d like to focus on the core contradiction at hand. RIM is trying to argue that Apple is bad, because its most exciting functionality isn’t vanilla web pages, while at the same time arguing that the BlackBerry platform is exciting because it has applications that are tightly integrated with the OS. You literally cannot have it both ways. Either Apple has cracked the formula on making mobile computing as capable as desktop computing, or mobile is irrelevant as a platform and a good web browser is all we need.
It seems clear to me that the establishment players in mobile are still in a state of shock at the success of both the App Store and the Android ecosystem. When a platform developer is advertising Flash and Adobe Air compatibility as a point of differentiation (also known as the “Hey! We’re like a Netbook without a keyboard!” argument), they have seriously lost the plot of what makes them competitive. It would be nice to see the iPad get some credible competitors. That won’t happen until someone recognizes that tablets are their own category of computer for which application exclusivity matters. If you don’t believe that, read Robert Scoble’s “data points” post and weep.