Why BlackBerry Needs Real Innovation, and How Boston Can Help
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its function-centric devices compromise the user experience for other emerging consumer needs like multimedia entertainment and mobile gaming, which are forecast to yield $77 billion in combined revenues by 2012. Devices like the Palm Pre and Motorola Droid seemed to have this solved for now, albeit with a slightly thicker form factor. Now you can have the best of both worlds, a viewable screen that extends the length of the device and an accessible QWERTY keyboard hidden underneath.
How Boston Can Help
So is the solution as simple as that? Not quite. First, this is a short-term “patch.” Second, BlackBerry has plenty of catch up to do in its user interface. In the medium to longer term, these efforts will fall far short in a head-to-head battle with Apple + Google. No, BlackBerry needs iPhonesque disruption. Where better to look than a city quickly becoming a mecca for mobile?
Boston is home to two best-of-breed speech recognition technology companies, Nuance Communications (NASDAQ: NUAN), a publicly traded company whose market cap is greater than $4 billion and whose roots date back to 1992, and Vlingo Corporation, a Cambridge-based startup backed by Yahoo!, AT&T, Charles River Ventures and Sigma Partners, among others. Until now, the term “hands-free” was really a misnomer; you couldn’t accomplish much without your device in hand. But with advances in both text-to-speech and speech-to-text technology, these companies have developed commercially viable services that allow you to speak commands to your mobile device, have them spoken back to you for validation, and in some cases, receive responses and updates by voice.
Currently Nuance offers Dragon Dictation & Search for iPhone, but the company will undoubtedly come out with Android and BlackBerry apps before long. Vlingo is already available for BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia S60 and Windows Mobile devices, with specific functionality varying by platform. The most feature-rich app is Vlingo Plus for BlackBerry, which allows customers to use voice for any task where they’d normally have to type. Both Dragon and Vlingo are shockingly accurate in deciphering speech even with a moderate level of background or ambient noise. Even as third-party apps, there’s a whole lot of value to the user. Now imagine if BlackBerry deeply integrated the technology into its operating system and invested in its continued advancement.
Will physical and/or virtual keyboards disappear any time soon? Not likely. But in my view the Nuance and Vlingo apps are the types of productivity applications that could serve as catalysts for BlackBerry to re-emerge as an innovator, charting its own path to success.
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