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Five things that doomed the big and brilliant BlackBerry 10

So long, and thanks for all the emails

1. Google ... and the ineptitude of everyone else


Announcing BlackBerry's first Android phone, John Chen made the number one reason for the initiative crystal clear.

"Everybody loves BlackBerry 10, they really do. But there's not enough apps. If I could put all the apps on BlackBerry 10 then that would be a smashing success. But I can't afford to do that, for all the practical and logistical reasons. So this is the best thing I could do," he said. Finally, we come to something that isn't entirely BlackBerry's fault.

Why is it that in the 1980s and 1990s, you could write a DOS-compatible OS and run DOS apps, without Microsoft's approval? DOS was proprietary system. But today, with "free" and "open" Android you must get Google's approval?

There's no shortage of blame to go round for this one.

Google's explanation is that it needs to avoid fragmentation, and advance Android quickly rather than by consortium or committee. It stuffs vital functionality – both apps and middleware – into a binary blob called GMS, or Google Mobile Services. And it refuses to certify (via third parties) anyone who doesn't carry this and display it exactly how Google wants it to.

Google strangled Acer's Android-compatible Android at birth. You can't sell both a Google-blessed "compatible" Android in your line-up, and a compatible-but-not-approved-by-Google Android. You must choose.

BlackBerry's runtime wizardry and its potential for virtualising Google give it a strong technical foundation for Android compatibility – perhaps stronger than anyones.

But BlackBerry was unable to obtain Google's blessing that either a virtualised Android image, or the runtime, were a "real Google". Not even Amazon obtained that blessing.

The FTC and the European Commission are belatedly looking into Google's Android contracts. Manufacturers were so terrified of Google they were loath to even admit there was a problem in confidence.

Google only exercised its muscle because it was allowed to. And perhaps even had to. The mobile industry demonstrated that it was completely inept at adding its own value to the platform.

The industry could have reached DOS-levels of compatibility if it had established services for mapping (HERE remains superior to Google's Maps in many respects), app stores, and perhaps even higher level services, such as music.

Who would need Google Play if a K-Mart app store was better? But it failed to undertake any kind of collaborative initiative that would have given it some independence, and ended up using Google's ever-expanding binary blob for everything. Rather than hang together, the manufacturers and carriers preferred to hang separately.


BB10 isn't the most expensive failed mobile platform of modern times. That dubious award probably goes to Meego/Maemo. Nokia's abandoned UIs alone (just the UIs) are reckoned to have wasted "2,000 man years".

Nor did it expire the most rapidly. Palm's webOS came and went (from mobile devices, anyway – it lives on in TVs) in the blink of an eye. Microsoft's Kin arguably wasn't a platform, and lasted a number of weeks.

BB10's remaining users, and some are pretty important, will be hoping that the Priv phone is a runaway success, with the cash and goodwill sparking the moribund BB10 back to life. At least for a bit longer. ®

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