Saturday, January 09, 2016

Blackberry's Fall... and Apple Watch Part II

As I watched the movie "the Big Short" (which I highly recommend) one item I noted was the ubiquitous nature of the Blackberry. Everyone on Wall Street lived on their Blackberry, and much of the action took place via a Blackberry (phone conversations, updates via email, watching stock prices remotely, etc...). A book was written called "Losing the Signal" that covers the rise and fall of Blackberry.

While I haven't read the book I am intimately familiar with Blackberry, having owned one for many years and waking every morning to see the blinking red light which indicated that I had new emails outstanding. I had an early version with the combined numeric / letter keyboard, which meant you had to hit the button multiple times (with delays) to type a "C" for instance. Like everyone else I was soon able to type at a rapid clip in this insane method and it seemed like an enormous relief when this was replaced by a "full" keyboard.

Blackberry also was a pioneer in instant messaging, another technology whose power I underestimated when I initially encountered it. A co-worker tried to connect to me by messenger and I just didn't see the use - why not just send an email? Of course nowadays it is completely obvious why messages are useful and email is mainly "just for work" and overtaken by reams of spam. And initially when texts were expensive (remember when your phone plan limited the number of texts?) this enabled text messaging that was essentially "free" (if you owned a phone already). But when you watch the complete and utter fall of Blackberry it must be remembered that not only did they invent and perfect the phone / email hybrid but they also had a head start on messaging, another multi-billion dollar technology.

My Blackberry was more reliable than my iPhone - I received email quickly and with more certainty, especially when compared with the wonky iPhone connections to outlook. However, with the lack of an "App Store" and no touch screen, the Blackberry was doomed by both iOS and Android. Reliability and a keyboard lost to an open system, a touch screen, and a seemingly infinite number of apps from third party programmers. You could look to a Blackberry as a lesson for Apple and their iPhone dominance, but Apple does a lot of things well that Blackberry never did, such as let vast numbers of third parties program for their platform, and continually evolve their platform with new tactile features (touch, GPS, etc...).

It is possible that if the fall of Blackberry occurred later, that their security features could have provided some "breathing room" since Android and iOS both fell short of Blackberry on those features and levels. Today Android and iOS are heavily engaged in security and this differentiator of Blackberry isn't enough to resurrect demand for the device.

Apple Watch

I recently bought an Apple Watch and wrote a review here. I am still wearing the watch and one benefit I noted that I hadn't fully anticipated is that having the watch on your wrist lets you be aware of phone calls and catch some critical calls that you might otherwise have missed. If your phone is in your jacket or bag, for instance, you probably won't go rummage through and pick it up if you are more than a few feet away (either you won't hear it or you will let it go to voice mail). However, since the Apple Watch is on your wrist, it is easy to see who is calling you and you can choose whether or not to pick up and do a "Dick Tracy" and talk into your wrist (that analogy will likely be lost on younger readers). While the sound quality isn't great in a crowded or loud facility, it is certainly adequate enough if the call is important, and this is great if for instance someone is "locked out" or there is some sort of emergency. I was recently at a gym with my phone in my jacket pretty far away but I was able to get a call and take it on my wrist and immediately respond when it would have been another half hour or more otherwise.

Most people don't use their phones for calling much anymore and thus calls are now the exception and not the norm, and people are more familiar with the "interrupt" type of communication (messaging / email) than the "continuous" type of communication (calling and interacting with another human). However, in case of a delivery from a third party, an emergency, or some other type of time sensitive communication, being able to interact through your wrist is a useful feature. This isn't a "killer app" for the Apple Watch but is a subtle and important benefit that could be very useful for some people.

One "complaint" I hear a lot is that the next generation watch will be more useful because it will be able to do more (connect wirelessly) without being "paired" to your phone. Frankly, this reflects a misunderstanding of the watch and what it can and cannot do well. In general, the watch is only useful for tasks or items that take a few seconds (a glance or a couple of taps) and for notifying you that something has occurred (such as receiving a text message or key email, or a notification of sports scores, etc...). Anything that you are doing on your watch that takes more than a couple taps SHOULD BE DONE ON YOUR PHONE. The Apple Watch (or any wrist computer) makes a very poor substitute for your phone and should be viewed as a complementary device, not a replacement. Thus anyone who thinks that the lack of independence from your phone is kind of missing the point - this could be a benefit in some situations, but isn't a game changer given the very limited screen real estate on your wrist in the first place.

I am getting my money's worth at $299 and it is nice that the watch doesn't cost anything per month. I probably will get a later generation watch when it has longer battery life and then pass this one on to a family member who will like free electronic gadgets. I don't think it is worth too much more than this, however.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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