Sharp End: BlackBerry snaps up The Astonishing Tribe


BlackBerry’s purchase of The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) is massive for the Canadian phone market, reckons dealer Jez Harris, and might just enable it to update its old UI and compete better with Apple, Android and now Windows

Some news that seems to have slipped the radar of late is that Research In Motion (BlackBerry) has purchased mobile software design company The Astonishing Tribe (TAT). So what? Well, I believe this is huge news for the mobile phone industry.

With the huge success of smartphones over the last couple of years – mainly iPhones and Android devices, but in recent weeks Windows Phone 7 too – the market has undergone a massive transformation in user einteractivity with their handsets.

Gone are the days where user interaction consisted simply of pressing a menu button and then scrolling to a feature they required. Today’s smartphones are extremely advanced and have very different user experiences using touch and even multi-touch. The user is far more immersed in the overall experience of the smartphone nowadays.

Over the last couple of years the BlackBerry user experience has started to look dated, even with its recent introduction of the BlackBerry 6 operating system. BlackBerry has not really strayed from the Menu, Scroll and Search format that has been the backbone of mobile phones for 15 years.

BlackBerry 6 was a move forward but not one far enough forward for BlackBerry. It has not dramatically changed the user experience. End-users are starting to expect an awful lot nowadays from their phones and the BlackBerry operating system is simply not keeping pace.

BlackBerry handsets do their jobs well. But from personal experience, and from listening to other dealers, nine times out of 10 customer how-to enquiries regarding handset functions are to do with BlackBerry phones. BlackBerrys are high maintenance devices for the dealer and the end user.

TAT has a phenomenal reputation in the smartphone arena for design – it has some truly astounding software interfaces for smartphones.

In fact TAT’s design excellence has even made it into the automotive industry. A quick look into its portfolio online will give those that have never heard of it a good insight to its user interface excellence.

With the purchase of TAT, RIM will have the ammunition it desperately needs to reinvigorate its fight in the smartphone arena and, possibly even, surpass some rivals it has lost ground to – I would argue, Apple, Android and now Microsoft.

Another recent RIM takeover was a company called QNX, involved in the preparation of the upcoming BlackBerry Play tablet that has been getting some very good press from those fortunate enough to have been given access to it.

If RIM is bold enough to take full advantage of its recent takeovers and changes its operating systems significantly, then the smartphone market can only benefit from having an even wider choice of innovative operating systems.

Data charges

Last time I mentioned how networks, in particular Orange, are raking in huge of profits from excessive data charges. Well, I’m not alone. Many dealers have been in touch since stating they too have customers who have been charged many hundreds if not thousands of pounds for using data allowances over inclusive allowance they may have.

The general consensus is the networks are not doing enough to protect the customer from bill shock. They are quite capable of informing customers when they are approaching their inclusive allowances or even when these allowances have been used up, but they choose not to.

The networksare profiteering from this over-usage and are not doing enough to address it. The customer I wrote about last time advises me he plans legal action against Orange for “unfair charges”.

The networks should introduce an opt-back-in system, whereby customers are notified as they use up inclusive data allowance, probably by text. It should inform them that if they want to continue to use the service they should reply to the text and agree to be charged the detailed rate.

Christmas cheer

Well, another year is almost over and I know of many dealers that did not survive it.

However, talking to some other dealers, mainly the ones that are nearly exclusively B2B sellers, they are saying that although 2010 has been tough they foresee a brighter future as they are now starting to build up a good repeating revenue stream from ongoing payment systems the networks introduced.

They also feel the networks are starting to value them again and are making more noise with a view to further support dealers and poach less.

The networks are rewarding loyal dealers that introduce good quality business to them and hopefully, so long as their view does not change again, then all of us going forward will have a profitable and exciting 2011.