Before the iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry was the king of smartphones. They seemed unstoppable, because by most accounts, they were the best and most successful at what most smartphones were for at the time: email and phone calls.
When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game — it changed what smartphones were for, from basic business-focused email devices to entire consumer personal computers with desktop-class operating systems and rich app ecosystems.
The BlackBerry’s success came to an end not because RIM started releasing worse smartphones, but because the new job of the smartphone shifted almost entirely outside of their capabilities, and it was too late to catch up. RIM hadn’t spent years building a world-class operating system, or a staff full of great designers, or expertise in mass production of luxury-quality consumer electronics, or amazing APIs and developer tools, or an app store with millions of users with credit cards already on file, or all of the other major assets that Apple had developed over a decade (or longer) that enabled the iPhone.
No new initiative, management change, or acquisition in 2007 could’ve saved the BlackBerry. It was too late, and the gulf was too wide.
Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for.
If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.