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 LITGM

9 thoughts on “Blackberry’s Fall… and Apple Watch Part II”

  1. ” 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”

    Unbundling functionality. The smart phone’s big innovation was combining all your previous devices into one. Now they’re going in the opposite direction by dividing it up again into separate things like wearable devices.

  2. For a watch, I wear a 35 year old Rolex and have no interest in the Apple Watch. I have begun texting on my iPhone5 more to communicate with my kids.

    It is amusing that my work, which is examining military recruits a couple times a week, involves only paper records and handwriting. Of course, I had to fill out a lengthy personal application a couple of years ago and that is now in the hands of the Chinese and/or Russians. The paper records are safer.

  3. I’m informed by my son that VR is the hot upcoming technology. I’ve heard that song before, but I do have to admit that this time, there does seem to be more evidence for it emerging as a useful technology that is ore than a toy.

  4. VR, as in Virtual Reality, has been a major Army training technique for years. It is used for Army trauma surgeons and, from what I have seen which isn’t much, it has been very helpful. Medical education is getting very sophisticated in using video and on-line training.

    Back about ten years ago, we scheduled a session at the American College of Surgeons to show some video-related training. The College put us in a fairly small ball room at the convention center in San Francisco. I was not the first presenter and got there just as the first session was about to start. The room was standing room only. That was ten years ago.

    I had some ideas about using training videos combined with interactive sessions for testing. I tried to learn 3D animation techniques with rather primitive software so I could figure out how to use it. Some guys in Irvine had the same idea and by the time I was getting into it, they sold their project to WebMD for $300 million. Oh well.

    What you can do is to video, for example, the interview of a parent about a child. The interviewer asks the questions and the parent answers. What you do is cut up the video to edit the answers. Then you let the person taking the exam, or the course, ask the questions by choosing a button. The parent answer is produced by the right question. The wrong question gets the wrong answer or “The patient died during the delay.”

    After the history, you can have slides on x-ray exams, etc. You can even have video of a typical case surgery or procedure.

    The Army uses this but adds VR which is a lot more expensive. My idea was in the era before wide band internet. You would sign up for the course, and pay a fee. Then the CD or DVD would be mailed to you and you would insert it and take the course and the quiz. If you passed the test, the certificate would be generated and you could print it. You could even have the result e-mailed to the certifying agency to fulfill requirements for continuing education.

    I just wasn’t fast enough although I’m not sure the WebMD folks have exploited it as I expected.

  5. I have managed to avoid the smartphone for a long time now. But coincidentally, I just received my iPhone 5s yesterday and today watched a video on how to set it up and use it. Kudos to video user’s guides. So much faster than reading a manual. I’m not anti-tech, but I use computers all day at work, have one at home, and didn’t see a need to carry one around with me, I just needed a basic phone. However, there are so many interesting and useful apps now that for the difference in cost – my phone was “free” with a two-year pan – that I decided to get one.

    I think the open system architecture and the touch and swipe functionality of the Apple is the key to its success. In that sense, it’s a far more advanced and flexible tool than the Blackberry was. It’s interesting how many technology pioneers get left behind when a new generation of tools emerges. More of that creative destruction for you.

    For a watch, like Mike K, I wear a 5 year old, analog dial, stainless steel automatic with gears. It has an exhibition glass back so you can see it operate. I love to look at it running, it’s like a piece of mechanical art. I do think the Dick Tracy 2-way wrist TV phone is coming, and it’s probably not that far away.

  6. The Apple Watch (or fitbit tracker or whatever they use for Android) is a different creature than a phone. Being on your wrist means that it can do things that your phone cannot do – like tell your pulse. Also it shows your exact position and can track motion (up and down), which is generally accurate when your phone is in your pocket but less so when you take off your jacket or put your phone in a bag or purse.

    If you are wearing a watch anyways – to tell time – then you might as well include some of the features that can work “at a glance”. There are a host of apps that have been built for the watch that are pretty good… they aren’t life changing, for sure, but they are evolving a lot and FAST.

    It is pretty interesting paying at starbucks by your wrist and getting on a plane with your information on your wrist… I did both of these recently. It is cool to just try things out.

    The ODD thing is that people WALK AROUND WITH THEIR PHONE IN THEIR HAND. This is what we are fighting. Why do they do that? Not for calls… because no one calls anymore. It is IN CASE THEY GET A TEXT OR EMAIL OR NOTIFICATION. Watch your kids. They do this all day. Is this normal? I think later on people are going to view this as insane behavior. In some ways, they are just doing what a watch could do for them, letting them know if something happened that they needed to know, and then they can interact.

    For all the commenters out there… just do this experiment… watch someone under 30 walk around all day staring and checking their mobile phone (they never, ever make calls). This is what the watch could replace… the constant waiting for interactions from others. Because you’d know about it.

    But then… what do to? If they want to respond instantly, then they might as well just hold their phones and respond right back. But this is driving the insane, rude behavior that you see every day, at dinner, and walking in the street, where the virtual world is more important than the physical world, and people far away on THEIR phones are more important than people right across from you, face to face.

    With a watch you can CHOOSE to not be rude, to just “know” that something is out there that you COULD respond to, if it was urgent (it rarely is), but let you be a normal human too. This could be the blessing of the watch.

    Funny, this comment is better than my post.

  7. just do this experiment… watch someone under 30 walk around all day staring and checking their mobile phone

    Yes, I’ve been noticing that for a while. The other day at work I was outside and, of the three people I could see, all were walking and staring into their phone. Later I passed someone in their fifties in a stairwell and he was doing it too. I said, ‘Ron, you have the smartphone disease.’ and mimicked a zombie staring at its hand as it walked. We both laughed. So I can see your point about the smartwatch.

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