When Innovation Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Posted: July 16th, 2010 | Author: Bob Machin | Filed under: Telecom Trends | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

My eyes were opened this week by my 15 year old daughter, who drew my attention to some of life’s realities. Shouldn’t that be my job?

She’s lobbying for a new mobile to replace the high-end Samsung which has kept her reasonably happy for most of the last year. My role in this process is pretty much to fund and supply, which I don’t mind too much—seeing the way she uses mobile technology is a pretty good way of keeping in touch with what really matters to ‘civilians’ rather than we occupants of the industry’s ivory towers.

And so it proved on this occasion, as my expectations were once again overturned. I assumed that as a long-term iPod user and Apple fan, she’d be looking for an iPhone next. But no—she wants a BlackBerry.

A BlackBerry? The device of choice for the business fraternity—at least until the iPhone supplanted it in the affections of the leading-edge road warrior?

“You don’t want a BlackBerry,” I said and went on to list the many reasons why a BlackBerry was simply the wrong choice for her particular demographic. “No,” she said simply, “I want a BlackBerry”.

Here’s why:

  • Everyone else has got one (and a quick survey of other parents would appear to confirm this). More to the point, everyone else is using BlackBerry IM (or BBM), and if you’re not, you’re out (folks, this is what we used to call ‘a killer app’).
  • It’s got a great Facebook app built in (the ‘killer app one-two’).
  • The keyboard is still unbeatable for text input (and if you think the iPhone is good for texting, go ask a cold-eyed, teenage power-user).
  • It’s got a decent camera.
  • It’s cheap—around €25 / month will get you a free and perfectly serviceable BlackBerry Curve, unlimited texts and IM, 500 MB of data and more calling minutes than the average teen will ever need.

In short, it works for her (the user), and it’s not so bad for me (the budget holder).

And the lessons to be learned from this? Certainly, it’s a reminder that the fundamental things still apply—offering your target market the means to communicate in the way they prefer at a great price is still a proposition that’s hard to beat, and whether by accident or design, RIM seems to have hit on that formula with the teen market. And while style and innovation will always catch the eye of early adopters with high disposable incomes, they often count for a lot less with the budget-constrained user.

Plus, what’s true for handsets probably tells us a lot about the rest of the industry too, including OSS vendors. In really competitive spaces, sometimes the best USP is doing the basic things right, consistently and at a good price. Bells and whistles, however much we love them, often count for an awful lot less with the prospective customer.