It was a Friday evening after work when I got my OS 10.3.1 update on my Z30. I was overwhelmed with excitement, evening plans were promptly delayed, and I definitely wasn’t putting down my device until I had become familiarly acquainted with every single new feature that came with the update. That excitement of downloading and installing a brand new OS is one of those few moments where I actually get pretty giddy, I think it’s my 12 year old self’s equivalent of getting a rare Pokémon card or something. Now naturally, as with most things in life, it’s usually fun to have someone to share in your joy. Lucky for me my entire family has BlackBerry 10 devices so I strolled into my parents’ living room expecting to have a wondrous BlackBerry fiesta when out of the corner of the room I hear a very quaint “oh…that’s neat”.
See, I’m what you’d call a BlackBerry Fan boy, Crackberry addict or, in my family apparently, BlackBerry tech support. What always seems to amaze me is how little the majority of BlackBerry 10 users actually know about their device and subsequent OS updates they receive. I’ve asked numerous different people how they liked the recent update just to get a confused stare, most just tell me there were minor UI changes or security fixes, but the truth is they don’t actually know why they updated. What’s worse is the numerous people who have bugs in their OS and they don’t even know they’re bugs, they just think that’s how the device is supposed to work, like virtual assistant not activating maps, or the remember app not saving a note through invocation. BlackBerry has never been good at communicating their mobile software to their userbase, educating them, empowering them. It was always one of those things that people picked up and learned how to use, either through a co-worker or friend.
The fact is that our mobile devices aren’t simple computers anymore, they’ve become our most used devices. With the exception of some professional software suites your BlackBerry 10 device can do the majority of the computing essentials. Having said that, though, they aren’t necessarily the simplest pieces of tech which means it’s important to have a healthy set of help, knowledge-bases and resources for users to access. I’m not talking about hidden support forums or obscure support hotlines (notice how many don’t have a phone number), or one off blog posts, I’m talking about real resources that are easy to access and prompt you to use them from your device.
There is an official website that BlackBerry users can visit to access information about the latest OS, but there is still very little in the way of a comprehensive or natural route that existing users would access the help app on their device or make the trip to the official website. And even so, the website and help isn’t necessarily that complete either. Weeks ago, before we ran our upstream podcast using BBM Meetings, I was trying to find some documentation on how to use the desktop program on their hidden help page which has information on almost every other product other than BBM Meetings for desktop. I tried searching Youtube and Google to see if anyone had done a review, but to my surprise I could not find a single piece of documentation official nor otherwise. How is that possible? A relatively new product released a few months ago and not a single online review? Not a single PDF manual or anything on BlackBerry.com to show you how to ACTUALLY use it? This was the closest I got to any form of documentation about the BBM Meetings desktop client. It’s essentially a webpage just telling me how to sign into BBM Meetings on my desktop…very useful.
We keep hearing that BlackBerry is trying to shift towards software, but that shift ultimately relies on creating that paradigm shift upon which to empower and throw its users into the driver’s seat. Currently, if you want to find out what’s new with your device or how to remedy an issue it’s much easier to search Google, Crackberry or BerryFlow. I used to own an iPhone (I know, I know, it was a while ago) and in that timespan I never once had to resort to a community forum to find more information about my device. If you look at the websites of major competitors you’ll notice they have entire webpages, documentation and marketing campaigns dedicated to letting their customers know what’s new in upcoming OS’ as well as what their current one has to offer. The majority of those people know what they’re getting when an update comes in. Whether it’s because of marketing or because the users are more inclined to find out, it’s still a testament to achieving that end goal of user education.
I shouldn’t look like a genius just because I showed someone how to use some of the baked-in functionality like the pinch gesture in the hub, how to take a screenshot, or how to use NFC to send files between devices. These are standard features that should have easily been learned through some sort of pamphlet that comes with the devices. It’s really frustrating because it looks like they have put some effort into creating some sense of an online resource, even going as far as to have some basic first-run tutorials when a new user starts-up a BlackBerry 10 device, but they ultimately fail at directing those users to permanent resources. Ultimately it results in a failure to entice them or educate them enough to want to seek this information. I’m not talking about those who search Google, Crackberry or Berryflow, I’m talking about those who just aren’t bothered to delve into the nitty gritty of their mobile device.
BlackBerry has to start putting in the legwork to get that knowledge out there. People constantly complain about their lack of marketing but the fact is they’ve dropped the ball on educating the users they already have. I shouldn’t feel like the future of BlackBerry relies on Crackberry staying afloat because it’s that important of a resource for the community, and I definitely shouldn’t feel like the only reason I truly know everything my device does is because of OS leak forum threads.
There needs to be an ongoing dialogue, or at least an attempt at one to convey this whole new direction the company has ventured towards and it starts with the users that rely on these amazing devices day in and day out. One of my favourite quotes from CEO John Chen is “BlackBerry is driven by an urgent, obsessive focus on what matters: you. When we lose sight of what you want and you need, we lose you.” But it’s hard not to wonder if the company even knows who their users are. We keep hearing about the Prosumer but we’ve yet to even have them define it for us. Who is this “you” he speaks of? Is it someone young? Is there a particular personality associated with the Prosumer? Is it connected to a certain lifestyle? The Leap was recently launched and we’ve discussed on Upstream that “it’s just not aimed at you (me)”. BlackBerry has been so focused on catering to the Enterprise and the parochial Prosumer that it’s failed to realize it’s alienating some of it’s most devout users, and maybe that’s the root of the issue. They had shifted too far into the consumer space, but maybe they’ve now gotten lost in their own enterprise mindset. As an existing user it’s hard not to feel that disconnect from the company. I’m one of the biggest BlackBerry users and proponents in my social group, I use it because it works for me, but I’m always wondering in the back of my head whether I’m the so called Prosumer or not.
Focusing on enterprise isn’t an excuse. It’s not an excuse for obscure developer relations, it’s not an excuse for neglecting those who stuck by you when you barely had any apps and it’s not an excuse for giving the cold shoulder to the consumer space and not providing essential end-user help tools and resources. A company shouldn’t be characterized by the drumbeat of its own executive team or the outdated perception of a worn-out regime, it should be defined by the users and the paradigm shift they all represent when they reply to a message quicker, stay connected better, and constantly do it all on the move. It’s a company culture that has long overstayed its welcome, one that has failed to keep up with the leading edge its very own products exude on a daily basis. I didn’t build my BlackBerry, you did, so why don’t you get some pride and show me how to use it.