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Has Blackberry finally found its final straw - unreliability?

A Blackberry user reads story about Blackberry outage this affecting millions users smartphone thhas now spread North AmericWednesday Oct. 12

A Blackberry user reads a story about a Blackberry outage that is affecting millions of users of the smartphone that has now spread to North America Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, in Montreal.

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Updated: October 14, 2011 11:36AM

What could possibly be worse than to be hauled out of a public fountain by police, stinkingly drunk and naked except for a Smurfette hat and wig, and for the video to almost immediately go internationally viral?

Answer: to have all of that happen in the same week when your younger brother is receiving a Nobel Prize for a vaccine that’s saved millions of children’s lives. Your own little problems are bad enough, but when they happen to you while someone closely related is being lauded for their tremendous achievements, well, that’s a solid sign that you do not count among God’s beloved.

If you don’t know what that feels like, ask any Research In Motion executive and have them describe it to you. In the past week, Apple has released a great new phone and a new OS that proves that the company’s horses are still running at an effortless gallop, and one of the hottest Android phones ever made (Samsung’s Galaxy S II) has finally arrived in the US.

Meanwhile, RIM’s servers have been suffering a fit of apoplexy that rendered tens of millions of international Blackberry users unable to communicate for three whole days.

The release date of the iPhone 4S is particularly ironic, because both the iPhone and the Blackberry are built around the same basic philosophy: great things are possible when one company controls the whole end-to-end solution. Apple articulates that concept by making sure that they shape and control nearly every app on the device. Blackberry does it by controlling the entire means of communication. This same strategy has made the iPhone a stunning success and caused all of RIM’s current problems.

The whole strength of a Blackberry phone as a communications device is the proprietary Blackberry messaging infrastructure; it allowed RIM to deploy many features well ahead of network carriers and also granted the people who administrate these devices at large organization a broader level of control.

As a result, the Blackberry became the ultimate fleet vehicle. It has more fans among IT managers than its actual users, but it’s damned-near the perfect way to keep dozens or hundreds of workers in touch with the mothership.

But it all works from RIM’s servers. When that lone artery closes off, the whole thing dies.

RIM weathered these outages in the past and their users mostly stuck with them. But this outage was different. It lasted three days, affected tens of millions of people worldwide, and couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It’s becoming harder and harder to imagine a world in which the Blackberry can remain a competitive product, and easy to imagine one in which the Blackberry is a near-antique.

The Blackberry sure looks like an antique, at any rate. It’s the only popular smartphone that retains a style and interface that was completely obliterated after the release of the iPhone. And it’s almost impossible for the company to deliver the touchscreen form and advanced apps that users want: to the market that matters most to Blackberry -- corporate IT -- the fact that it doesn’t change much from year to year is one of the Blackberry’s key features. You don’t need to spend a whole lot of time retraining a Blackberry user on a new handset.

Meanwhile, messaging features that were once unique to Blackberry are now common in any iPhone or Android device, and those devices are just as easy to administrate in bulk.

When you visit Blackberry community forums, the phrase “the final straw” pops up reliably in post made over the past few days and as much as IT managers like the Blackberry, the device is becoming unreliable at the one task it’s meant to perform.

And the problem with the business of making fleet vehicles is that your end-users have no allegiance to your product whatsoever. Apple would have to anger tens of millions of iPhone users at the same time to threaten the product’s ongoing existence. For RIM to kill the Blackberry, they only need to anger thousands of administrators. And it’s possible that this week, they’ve done just that.

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