Lessons Learned From the Smartphone Wars

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The machine of business is constantly in motion. It only knows one direction; forward. Any company that pauses to take a breath is sucked underneath and crushed between the treads. The business world is used to such aggressive metaphors, because business is aggressive. Companies who sit back and let others lead will not last.

The current Apple vs. Research in Motion battle is a good example of this. Five years ago, RIM was at the top of the world. Blackberries were the necessary accessory for every 18-35 year old. It was the must-have item for every tech-savvy teenager and power-hungry businessman. Even casual text/browsers wanted a piece of the action.

Then Apple dropped the iPhone. The California company took everything that consumers loved about the iPod, melded it with a phone and added application capability. They gave it power, expansion capability and a touch screen. Angry Birds made it fun and the high-quality camera inspired millions of amateur photographers.

Now in its fourth generation, the iPhone is indispensable to its users. It has their music library, social network and email. It is the office, away from the office.

And where is RIM's Blackberry? It remains buried in the pockets of the faithful few. With a handful of new, but very similar designs, the Blackberry has stayed true to its roots. There is the 1 1/2 inch screen and the Qwerty keyboard. The one super cool feature: the Blackberry messenger app.

So what happened?

RIM failed in three major categories: marketing, aesthetics and enjoyment. Apple's iPhone marketing, like its design, was crisp clear and engaging. The people in their advertisements were young, happy and technologically savvy, without being nerdy. The product is fun to use and easily navigable.

When Apple reached out to the Y Generation, Blackberry stuck with the X. Blackberry wanted the businessman; Apple wanted the twenty-somethings with disposable income. But what market is more likely to upgrade after each new generation is released?

The end is near for RIM because they failed to change. They came up with a great product, Apple came out with something better and instead of fighting back, RIM floundered and tried to improve on a device that was already in the rearview mirror. It's a sad tale, for a once promising, Canadian business.

The lessons: 1. When the game changes, change with it. 2. Always market to the next generation. 3. If your product is fun, people will enjoy it. They will buy it.
These valuable lessons can be applied to any small business.
Always invest in your company. Never be satisfied. If longevity is the goal, then creativity should always be encouraged. A fresh, marketable face, will outsell a perfectly competent older version.
Creativity and change don't come cheap. Available capital needs to be generated through sales or a credit agent. Look for alternative means of investment. A second mortgage can help. If the banks refuse a loan request, then a home equity loan is the answer. Paying to stay in the game is a natural cost. With the foot off the gas, there is no chance of winning.
RIM had a great product, but they never adapted. With Android surging, Apple may be tested. Apple's best bet is to surge ahead and avoid the rolling tread of the machine.
Innovation, adaptability and listening to your customers - they're timeless lesson that apply across every industry.
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