The Mobile Messaging industry of today is limited and fragmented by the existence of a number of competing, non-interoperating, closed solutions. For this reason the industry remains only a fraction of its eventual size and scope.
By shifting competitive engagement from system-level to component-level, the open WhiteBerry solution will change everything. WhiteBerry will expose the entire Mobile Messaging value chain to market entry, resulting in a flood of innovation, cooperation and competition, and catalyzing enormous industry growth.
There is a substantial segment of the messaging market that can be targetted without any product development effort whatsoever, and with minimal sales effort. This segment consists of those users who can be provided with the WhiteBerry solution immediately and at virtually zero cost, because they already own the necessary hardware.
Any user who owns an appropriate device/modem combination is a latent WhiteBerry user. To take the example of a specific network (say CDPD) and a specific device (say Palm), note that every person who owns a Palm device and a compatible CDPD modem can become a WhiteBerry user at zero hardware cost. All that such users need is the necessary LEAP software. The same applies to other network/modem/device combinations.
This pre-enabled market segment is quite substantial. In terms of modems, as of February 2001 there is an estimated existing installed base of between 250,000 and 300,000 PDA-compatible CDPD modems; and the installed base of other wireless IP modems such as Ricochet and Packet CDMA is also rapidly growing. In terms of devices, there is an estimated installed base of around 20 million PDAs such as Palm, Windows CE, etc. . It is also worth noting that a user who owns one of these components (i.e. device or modem) but not the other can be provided with WhiteBerry functionality at correspondingly discounted incremental hardware cost.
Furthermore, since the owners of these components are already known to the component vendor, they can be targetted directly. A ready-made marketing/distribution channel to these users is immediately available to the appropriate hardware manufacturer or integrator. Companies who can take immediate advantage of this include modem manufacturers such as Novatel and Sierra Wireless, and hardware integrators such as Omnisky and YadaYada.
In summary, the installed base of device/modem owners represents a golden business opportunity because:
This segment therefore provides the opportunity for very rapid initial deployment and propagation of the WhiteBerry solution. Beyond this segment, deployment of WhiteBerry solutions in general requires extremely low development cost, while offering truly gigantic upside potential.
The skeptical reader may have doubts that the LEAP-based WhiteBerry solution can succeed, on the grounds that it is a market newcomer, going head-to-head with an already established competitor - a sure-fire recipe for business failure.
This belief, however, represents a basic misunderstanding of the fundamental nature of WhiteBerry and BlackBerry. These are not peer competitors; rather, they are two entirely different business models, one of which has inherent long-term viability, while the other does not.
History shows that, other things being equal, the underdog loses. But in the case of BlackBerry and WhiteBerry, other things are far from equal. BlackBerry is a closed commercial construct; while WhiteBerry is an open and egalitarian industry enabler. Under these circumstances, history has very different lessons to teach.
In this case, a repeated historical pattern is for a new concept or technology to be initially deployed in the form of one or more closed, commercial implementations. Once these commercial implementations have proved the basic value proposition, they are followed by free and open implementations of the same concept, which then overtake and supplant the commercial implementations.
There is ample historical precedent for this. Examples are the proprietary networking protocols SNA from IBM, and DECnet from DEC, both of which were followed and rendered obsolete by TCP/IP; various closed operating systems followed and made obsolete by GNU/Linux; and more recently, ASP (Microsoft's server-based web development tools) followed and supplanted by PHP. In every one of these cases an entrenched solution, representing commercial vested interests and with aggressive industry backing, was supplanted by an open equivalent which at the outset had no industry backing at all.
The BlackBerry/WhiteBerry scenario follows precisely this pattern, and this is why WhiteBerry can and will succeed.
From the point of view of the commercial interests they supplant, these open usurpers have the effect of ruining a profitable business, typically without any apparent profit motivation on the part of the open system proponents. To the commercial interests, this appears to be an act of economic vandalism - the destroying of a viable business opportunity, for no good reason. For this reason, these open systems are often characterized as market ``spoilers.''
But this is a narrow view. At the very least, open systems merely shift economic benefit from one place to another. And in virtually all cases, the industry-wide adoption of open systems results in greatly increased overall economic benefits.
WhiteBerry will certainly act as a spoiler for the closed Mobile Messaging industry. Simply by distributing LEAP in the form of open-source software solutions, we can ruin the market for any closed messaging solution.
In so doing, we will shift economic benefit from the closed system purveyors, to the many users who would otherwise have purchased a closed solution. But our intention is to accomplish far more than this simple dollar shift - our intention is to create greatly increased opportunities and benefits.
The key to accomplishing this resides in the participation of others. With this participation, WhiteBerry will move beyond being a mere industry ``spoiler,'' and will create enormous new business opportunities. We actively welcome and encourage such participation.
The losers in this will be the closed-system marketeers such as RIM. But the winners will be the many more companies who are able to participate in the Mobile Messaging market - and the end user who will benefit from the resulting competition and innovation.
In the data communications world, the era of the closed system is dying. This is because it has now become clear that:
In the domain of large-scale interconnected systems, open systems always displace closed systems.
The historical precedents for this are clear and irrefutable; yet despite this observation, businesses doggedly persist in deploying closed systems such as BlackBerry, or pseudo-open ones such as WAP. One may reasonably ask: Why is this? What is the great allure for businesses of closed systems?
The answer is that historically, closed systems have provided precisely the sort of classical sustainable advantage that MBAs are taught to seek. And there are certainly many business arenas in which closed systems can, in fact, provide a long-term competitive advantage.
However, the domain of large-scale interconnected systems is not one of them. In this domain things work differently, and here closed systems inevitably lose to open systems. But this domain is new, and its new rules are not yet well understood within the mainstream of business theory. Business thinking remains rooted in the traditions of conventional products and services, and continues to apply traditional principles to an entirely new domain, to which these principles do not apply.
But the opportunities for closed systems are diminishing. The time lag between the deployment of a closed system, and its supplantation by an open equivalent - i.e. its period of profitable tenure - is growing shorter. There is no better example of this than WhiteBerry itself, which is broadsiding BlackBerry even before it has fully left the ground.
At watershed moments like this, in which there is some sort of fundamental technological migration, the business community is always the last to know.
A perfect example is the case of wired e-mail. As recently as 1990, all members of the Electronic Mail Association (EMA) were in business terms solidly committed to X.400 (i.e. e-mail based on the telecommunications infrastructure, as opposed to the Internet infrastructure) as the long-term e-mail solution. But in the engineering world it was always perfectly clear that Internet e-mail (i.e. SMTP, POP etc.) would win out over telecommunications e-mail - as, of course, it did.
The evolution of WhiteBerry will likely be no different. At this point, WhiteBerry may seem radical and implausible to the business world, but this merely represents a general lack of understanding and imagination on the part of business. In the engineering world, the case for WhiteBerry is already conclusive. Initially therefore, it will be the responsibility of the engineering community to lead the way forward.