Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Did artificial intelligence kill the BlackBerry? It did for me.

Recently, Globe and Mail noted in their political briefing newsletter that Samsung's Knox software is deemed to be as secure as the traditional BlackBerry:

"Shared Services Canada, the department in charge of overseeing IT for the federal government, is set to offer alternatives to bureaucrats over the next 18 months as part of “a new approach to mobile service to better serve its clients, use new technology and adapt to changes in the marketplace.” Samsung and its line of Android-powered smartphones was the first to be approved by Shared Services, but only after two years and several tests showed that Samsung’s phones passed military-grade requirements."

In this blog, we've covered Blackberry's steady fall into oblivion. For me, BlackBerry was my first smartphone. I even got excited about the Torch, thinking it was the perfect compromise between the touch screen and the classic keyboard. However, that feeling faded quite quickly after using the device. It was so underpowered and underwhelming compared to the competition.

When looking at the Porter 5 forces that surrounded this once mighty Canadian tech giant, we could say that both Apple's iOS and Android offer better substitute's: better devices, more power, better apps, etc. Essentially, these devices has evolved so much that they bring the power of the PC into the palm of one's head (Samsung's Note 8 is expected to have 6GB of RAM!).   This alone doesn't explain why BlackBerry was ultimately displaced from corporate IT - well before Samsung's Knox became equal-to-BlackBerry in terms of security.

I think there were two key developments that enabled BlackBerry's decline.

The more well known one is the "consumerization of IT" phenomenon: users wanted to use their latest iPhone or Android device instead of the BlackBerry in the corporate environment. Going back to Porter 5 forces this speaks to "bargaining power of buyers": the people no longer wanted to be limited to the "one trick pony" of email and BB Messenger. And they were willing to lobby their corporate IT departments to bring on the Android and Apple devices.

This leads to the second less well known factor.

What allowed consumerization to take place was that Microsoft took an open approach to licensing it Exchange Active Sync. This move paved the way for iPhone and Android to connect their devices to the corporate email server. Microsoft open attitude essentially transferred the power from BlackBerry to the consumer.

But for me it was a little different. Of course I like the apps and GPS that my Android and iPhone bring to me: the ability to read the Kindle, listen to audio books and podcasts without having to carry multiple devices is definitely a productivity. But really it was one particular app that made me able to switch: SwiftKey.

And that's where we get to the artificial intelligence.

I was a big fan of the Blackberry,  primarily because I thought I couldn't live without the physical QWERTY keyboard. But friends who were encouraging me to switch mentioned that Android sported the SwiftKey keyboard which is powered by artificial intelligence. This keyboard is much better for me in terms of learning the words I use when I type than the predictive text feature in its iOS counterpart (which I use for work).


A little while ago, I tried a colleague's BlackBerry and the irony is that my hands hurt. And that's probably because I type a lot less specifically because of the AI approach taken by SwiftKey. As per the native analytics tracker (see graphic below) in my app I have been saved myself over 350,000 taps and am 28% more efficient





Today, over a quarter billion people use SwiftKey on their mobile devices. Although a little hidden from the view of analysts and academics, advances in artificial intelligence enabled SwiftKey (now owned by Microsoft) to offer a substitute for the once dominant BlackBerry physical keyboard. And for me personally it was this little piece of exponential technology (along with the relatively giant landscape of the Samsung Note 1) that convinced me it was time to switch.

And like I said, I can never go back.

Author: Malik Datardina, CPA, CA, CISA. Malik works at Auvenir as a GRC Strategist that is working to transform the way we do financial audits. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent UWCISA, UW, Auvenir, Deloitte's or anyone else. 

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