Blackberry, for all its success, suffers from one core problem: It's the boring corporate suit at the funky smartphone office party. Now two bits of news have popped up to suggest that RIM is trying to inject a bit of hipster design thinking into its products.
First is the news that RIM has achieved, for them, a great recruitment coup: They've just hired Don Lindsay. He's an Apple vet who pulled together the team that's responsible for the original look and feel of the OS X "aqua" user interface, and now he'll lead RIM's "user experience" design unit. The aqua UI is a key reason Mac gained the lead in UI design in recent years, and its influence has even extended into the iPhone's ground-breaking interface. Lindsay left the company in 2003, before the iPhone's development, and joined Microsoft where he's had a design director role in the company's cutting-edge Live Labs. He's responsible for the look and feel of Vista, among other things (but he's absolved of any responsibility for the core programming flaws).
RIM is likely planning to deploy Lindsay to revamp the look and feel of the Blackberry interface as the company moves into developing more advanced, perhaps increasingly touchscreen, smartphones. Blackberry OS has always been simple, and powerful for its mobile email skills. But its user experience tends to fall way short of satisfying. That could change now.
The second reason to believe RIM wants to join the cool kid crowd is the news that RIM's newest promotional partner is U2. Rim is sponsoring U2's upcoming 360º global tour. It's a notable flip-flop since U2 were Apple's darlings—remember the special edition U2 , with dedicated styling and the band's entire discography pre-loaded?
Some words by Bono have propelled both U2 and RIM into the news lately, as the singer explained why the band made the move: Apple wouldn't let the ambassadors of pop get into the design labs and contribute to iPhone or iPod choices, whereas RIM is prepared "to give us what Apple wouldn’t—access to their labs and their people so we can do something really spectacular." That's led to speculation that a U2-themed Blackberry may be in the making, or a device that contains some design thinking from Bono and the band, like a bunch of dedicated applications that promote the band and its music.
Whether or not you think U2 has any business designing gadgets, this news, combined with Lindsay's appointment, shows that RIM is likely attempting to skew younger in its design department. This makes sense when you consider that half of all iPhone owneres are under the age of 30, according to a report last year from Rubicon consulting. But is it a wise idea for RIM to join the cool kids' party? Rubicon thinks not.
We don't think RIM would be wise to try to enter the entertainment market against Apple; the infrastructure investment would be too large, and besides RIM's brand image is all wrong for that. RIM would be much better served to defend and grow its business market by adding more types of business communication to the Blackberry, such as videoconferencing, whiteboarding, and business travel functions.
In other words, RIM should stick with the olds.