Four reasons we’re wary of RIM’s BlackBerry music service

blackberry musicRIM has struggled to keep up with iOS and Android. Its major competitors have something of a fashionable factor to them, something the smartphone of the corporate world doesn’t have. BlackBerries have been synonymous with serious work environments for awhile, and things like the app market and the mobile gaming revolution upended the hold it had over smartphone consumers.

And RIM’s been trying to play catch up for the last few years now. Along the way, there have been a number of missteps: Its go at the tablet market–the PlayBook–all but crashed and burned, the most exciting BlackBerry in awhile has been priced at a whopping $300, and it’d been forced into layoffs and major retooling of its executive branch.

It’s clearly time to get with it, and RIM’s first attempt at playing catch-up is to launch an exclusive music service. Our gut reaction is to say, “really, RIM? That’s your answer?” but we’re going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is only part of some grand scheme to sex BlackBerry up. Still, there are a number of reasons why this particular plan is going to be an uphill battle.  

  1. Over-saturation. There are already more than enough music services to turn to, and once you’ve committed to a music platform, going back is generally more effort than it’s worth. Even big, asset-rich companies like Google are only tip-toeing into this market.
  2. Banking on BlackBerry Messenger. According to initial reports, the music service would run on top of BBM and allow its users to access and share (via BBM) up to 50 songs at once. While tying a music application to BBM is smart in the sense that it’s one of the few remaining features that sets BlackBerry apart from the crowd, it’s not enough to guarantee success. Until very recently, the encrypted messaging service was unique to RIM’s handsets, but Apple is set to introduce its own secure texting service, and Facebook Messenger has been called a BBM killer. While there’s skepticism as to that last thought, it’s certainly a challenger. And given Apple’s iTunes is so universally accepted, BlackBerry’s forthcoming service would have a tough time convincing anyone there’s a reason to switch.
  3. Either compete or don’t. One of the most interesting and infuriating details that has surfaced about this product is that insiders tell the Wall Street Journal it’s not meant to compete with the likes of Spotify or iTunes. Why not? RIM is right to acknowledge that music applications are incredibly important to the mobile industry, and that given how this market is currently in flux, there’s no better time to jump in. But RIM needs to jump in with both feet first. Half-assed products don’t do anyone any good–and of all business RIM should know that by now. Even if a BBM music service is dirt cheap, hearing that RIM doesn’t even intend to challenge iTunes and Spotify isn’t exactly encouraging.  
  4. Do you know your demographic? Early reports also say that RIM is courting its young users who want to “customize their phones” with this music service. What young users? Sure, there are BlackBerry consumer-level users, but you have a niche, BlackBerry, and it’s the corporate world. It’s not uncommon for someone to have a BlackBerry for work purposes and their iPhone or Android for personal use–including listening to music.

 All of that said, RIM obviously needs to do something to its mobile product line. And if it’s truly signed the four major labels that sources say it has, then we wouldn’t call this a lost cause quite yet.

But we’re of the belief that you go big or go home, and this just seems like a weak testing of the hipper, cooler smartphone waters rather than a full-steam-ahead project. It’s a little like RIM is grasping at straws to get back its former glory days, and throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks isn’t a typically recommended method. 

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