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Whither the BlackBerry: What now for yesterday's smartphone?

Visitors try out Blackberry smartphones at the CeBIT 2012 technology trade fair on March 6, 2012 in Hanover, Germany. Research In Motion holds an annual shareholder meeting among much nail-biting.

Back in 2008 BlackBerry was THE status symbol. The new president didn't want to give his up. 

Barack Obama: I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry. They're going to pry it out of my hands.

But it's been a rough few years for Research In Motion, or RIM, BlackBerry's parent company. Must have been awfully tense at yesterday's annual shareholders meeting for a company that has seen layoffs, CEO resignations, and BlackBerry's share of the smartphone market slip to just 6 percent.

Ken Dulaney is an analyst with Gartner. He says RIM got overconfident, failed to adapt, and fell out of fashion. "The biggest problem they have to overcome is that everyone's gone negative on them. The press has gone negative, the users have gone negative. You know, we think it's financially okay for now, but I think that can't stop people's concern of wanting a backup strategy. So I think the first thing they've got to do is they've got to instill some confidence by showing what they're planning to do."

RIM is trying to adapt. Yesterday, the company announced its new operating system, BlackBerry 10, will be available in January. Remains to be seen whether that can turn things around.

Thing is, even though they're now kind of square, BlackBerry phones are not regarded as terrible. Some people love them. Roger Cheng writes for CNET, and says, "They're pretty decent. I mean, in terms of the user interface, in terms of what you can do with them. The problem is their operating system is okay. But what they needed was an excellent operating system. Until they move to a next generation operating system, which they're planning to do, they're still going to be seen as behind iOS and Android."

If BlackBerrys don't make a big comeback, RIM will be sold off or just keep withering away.

So where does that leave you if you own a BlackBerry with a couple years left on a contract?

Cheng: Your phone is going to continue to work. Services are going to continue to work. A lot of the issues for RIM are for whether or not future products are going to show up. But if you've already bought a Blackberry, you should be fine.

Moe:  How about in terms of the app universe, the app ecosystem? Are the app developers going to want to build things for Blackberry, or am I just going to envy my friends' iPhones and Androids?

Cheng:  I think for the most part you will continue to envy your iPhone and Android friends. But if you bought a Blackberry now, chances are you weren't that into apps. Most people who buy Blackberries are in it for the mail or are in it for the security.

And that used to be enough.

But times have changed and now apps matter a lot. Cheng says, "That's sort of where the consumer market evolved to. It wasn't just owning a cool looking phone, it was what you could do with that phone and doing things like playing games or productivity apps, or location-based apps. The kinds of bells and whistles that kind of make a smartphone now."

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We have more than enough social networks. Nonetheless, we keep getting more social networks. One of the newer ones comes from a singer who doesn't shy away from the spotlight.

Lady Gaga has launched littlemonsters.com. Not sure if Lord Gaga is involved. You can meet other Gaga fans, get concert tickets, post on message boards. It's being called a social network although it sounds a lot like what we used to call, you know, a website.

Littlemonsters.com is a fine name but I think there was a missed opportunity with the name here. Should've gone with Pokerfacebook.

I'm not joining Gaga's network yet. Gonna wait to see if Foghat launches a social network. Or, I don't know, Men Without Hats.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.
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