Thursday, August 26, 2010

A losing fight

My buddy Elad once told me something that's so true and obvious, that it's surprising to see his point played out time and again. He said that it's foolish to fight against fundamental technology trends. Yea, it's as obvious as predicting 7 quarters ago that Android would be heading to the #1 market share in smart phones, Intel would buy McAfee, and Gilt would be valued at more than $1B

The latest RIM product, the Torch, is a hybrid touch screen and keypad device which compromised the keyboard to the point of making it meaningless and has a screen that's at least one generation behind the competition. It's not competitive, but it's totally understandable what drove their product decisions. They are a company defined by its keyboard, it's their reason for being. Every reviewer for the past decade lauded the company for its sleek design and competitors strained to equal it. The problem is that RIM is now fighting against a fundamental technology shift.

Screens are getting much better (the Samsung Galaxy series is amazing...a blow away). But there's more afoot here. A relatively new program, Swype, fundamentally changes the metaphor for text entry. It's not perfect, but it is a step above pecking, has much better predictive words than previous generations and highlights another innovation sphere.

If you look at the innovation sphere's around the smart phone (or what's really a little computer that dials), you see processors, screens, communications and software. You do not see any meaningful innovation around physical keypads. If anything, they are getting worse as vendors strive to incorporate the above. The hybrid devices we see today, with full qwerty keyboard,s are an interim generation, akin to 8 track tapes in automobiles...and destined to last as long.

Jim Balsillie, RIM's CEO is an incredibly resilient and driven executive. Many folk know that you don't pull on Superman's cape, and you don't mess with Jim. For RIM's shareholders, I hope this still holds true.

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