23
Jan
rim-2010630

Now, we're an Android blog and all, but we aren't exactly deaf to the seemingly never-ending corporate death-curdle that is Research in Motion. As we speak, the tech world is watching (halfway out of actual interest, half for sheer entertainment value) as the once seemingly immovable enterprise titan rolls, like a god on high fallen from Olympus, to the bottom of a mountain called Relevancy.

The story of that tumble can be told, foot by foot, from the day of the iPhone launch. Then, from the rise of Android (particularly, the Motorola DROID). And from that point forward, by the so-long-it's-getting-kind-of-funny list of poor (even foolish) decisions made by RIM's management.

There was the BlackBerry Torch - RIM's attempt to be "hip" and "cool" and get on board with that whole full-sized touchscreen business they had sworn off after the well-intentioned failure that was the BlackBerry Storm. And who will ever forget the PlayBook - a BlackBerry device that didn't have email or sync support out of the box unless it was "bridged" to your other BlackBerry device. And now, the company has put the brakes on the first devices to run its next version of the BlackBerry OS (BB OS 10). It really is like watching a Shakespearean tragedy unfold. And don't worry, there's still time to grab some popcorn - it's likely that RIM's death will be more prolonged than the director's cut of a Peter Jackson film.

But doubt not the truth of that statement, RIM is definitely dying:

smartphone-os-share

RIM is clearly losing ground in the "vertically stacked bar graphs" market.

Talk all you want of "international markets" and "the big picture," but don't expect anyone to take you seriously anymore if you're still rooting for the guys on the RIM bench. This is nothing short of a technological and managerial train-wreck, and someone at RIM needs to pull the brake lever before this Canadian locomotive completely derails itself.

Even sometimes-BlackBerry-optimists BGR have taken to cynicism, particularly after the internal organizational shake-up that seems to be little more than a move to appease upset investors and generate talk of "change" in the press.

The point I'm getting at? Without anything short of a massive shift in strategy and product development, RIM is doomed. So, now that I've painted this wonderfully dreary picture, it's time to move on to what can be done to fix it.

How Android Can Save RIM

Let's just start with this: the PlayBook OS 2.0 Android app player is just not going to be RIM's way back to a meal ticket. Anyone saying otherwise probably still uses a BlackBerry, and when they hear the word "tablet," think of their cholesterol medication first, some holy stones with words on them second, and portable touch display computing devices third (if at all).

It's not that the app player is in and of itself a bad idea, it's just not a good enough one to save a product that has otherwise been a financial failure for the company. Selling off your inventory at $300 below MSRP to get some units off the balance sheet before the new year starts doesn't exactly scream "confidence," either.

But, like some crazed mountaineer scaling Everest, RIM isn't going to give up until some of its more important limbs start falling off. And that might not actually be the worst thing in the world for the company, because it's in dire need of a reality check. It's clear RIM's management has deluded itself into believing it can make products consumers actually want while changing its core strategy as little as possible. Any rational, informed person can see this just isn't going to work. The way I see it, BlackBerry has three options at this point:

First, it can go for broke and continue on the path to destruction. Iterate handsets, push the QNX-based BlackBerry OS 10, hope the Android app player idea takes off with developers, and basically keep doing what they've been doing from day one. Of course, it's extremely likely that this road dead ends after a few years, with RIM being sold off piecemeal as patents and office supplies.

Second, it can abandon its hardware business, sell it off, and become a software company. This doesn't sound like a horrible idea, but RIM would obviously have to shrink significantly to make this happen, and it would all but spell the end of BlackBerry OS devices in the mobile ecosystem. Licensing the OS to handset makers sounds like an attractive option in this scenario - if you don't think about it for more than 30 seconds. BB OS has a taint on it that only BlackBerry can scrub away, because they're the only ones with any confidence in their product anymore. It's the same reason Web OS going open source won't do anything but put it on life support - it'll be alive, but only in the strictest sense of the word.

Third (this would be the option I'm suggesting could save them), kill BlackBerry OS while they have the chance, and start working on integrating their existing software and products into Android. Real access to an app infrastructure, not simply giving developers an open door to compatibility, combined with Android's increasing polish and performance, would be like sticking RIM with a syringe of epinephrine straight to the heart. RIM could integrate its products like Messenger, its sync services, and highly recognizable and generally lauded QWERTY hardware into a platform that isn't headed for the ditch. Candy-bar keyboard smartphones are a market just waiting to be exploited in the Android device ecosystem, and if anyone does that form factor right, it's RIM.

Of course, this option absolutely terrifies RIM's management and investors. RIM has invested huge amounts of time and money into BB OS 10, and it still isn't ready. With the latest delay, it's clear that even when it is ready, the newest version of Android and iOS (and probably Windows Phone 7, too) will outmatch it in almost every way that isn't inextricably linked to a proprietary RIM product or service. No one is expecting RIM to reinvent the wheel with BB OS 10, and nothing short of that will renew the interest of fickle consumers in RIM's products. Even enterprise customers, RIM's bread and butter, are fleeing en masse at this point.

For better or worse, I know a lot of lawyers, and I can say that law is the epitome of the technological sloth of enterprise. Most firms still use WordPerfect. I'm not joking. The CrackBerry has been the smartphone-standby of the legal industry since its introduction, and it has proven almost impossible to dislodge (many lawyers do, however, have iPhones for personal use). But now, I'm seeing Android and iOS devices making their way into the pockets of lawyers. Most giant mega-firms still require employees to use BlackBerries, but the security and management tools for Android and iOS have started proving their mettle among small and medium-sized firms, with fewer and fewer issuing a BlackBerry as standard hire equipment. If this is happening in the legal industry, you can bet it's been happening faster in almost every other sector.

Now is the time for drastic change, not foolhardiness. RIM needs to admit they've screwed up, and quit acting like a steward on the deck of the Costa Concordia. Given time, even the diehards won't be able to ignore the fact that their feet are getting wet. Android could be RIM's lifeboat - if it isn't too proud to accept that going down with the ship probably isn't a sound long-term business strategy.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Darkmyth

    too long to read....

    • iSlackerz

      I don't want to dislike you... but you make it so hard not to.

  • AndrewInspire

    Fantastic idea. Seems like almost a no-brainer for them at this point to make their own flavor of Android. That is secretly what everyone is longing for. RIM just doesn't want to admit it.

  • Ron Amadeo

    Beautiful opening paragraph.

    You're right, skinning Android would instantly bring RIM back to relevancy, but they are too busy hurtling towards bankruptcy to realize it.

    My favorite Blackberry 10 quote from the new CEO: "I can't wait to see it."
    ...
    It's like watching a slow motion car wreck. Goodbye, RIM!

  • http://s4gru.spruz.com/ S4GRU

    I was just talking about this subject over in our forums today. I think RIM's best bet is Android.

    They could create a BB-like skin similar to what Amazon did with the Kindle Fire. It runs Android apps but looks and feels like something more BlackBerry. Just upgraded.

    Then they could add all the important RIM apps and BlackBerry enterprise services to run in an Android environment, just like the author suggests.

    It's the only thing that can save RIM, IMHO. And I think there is much more demand for physical keyboard Android devices as noted above. Brilliant!

    Robert
    Sprint 4G Rollout Updates

  • http://www.webizzima.com Alain Alemany

    This is a hell of a masterpiece, congratulations to David Ruddock for it. Personally I think (from long time ago) that RIM must [need] to swallow their based-on-the-past pride and make their move to the next step.

    Thanks for this article, it really speaks my mind out :)

  • Joshua

    I agree, Black berry still has hope in hardware.....BB OS 10 is dead on arrival.
    In order for a OS to thrive it has to have developers, and to attract developers you must have customers.

  • Bob

    This is a good article. I bet RIM is relying on those just enterprise partners now...only a matter of time til they switch. i dont see RIM ever using android completely though. They should completely rip android and call it OS10 so then it could actually have app support and still be the main dev for its OS.

  • AppleFUD

    QNX is a very successful OS on its own--it's the #1 OS used by car manufacturers and is heavily used by the medical field. RIM can leverage that base. And they still have a decent user base to leverage.

    I would hate to see QNX die. I would rather see more competition and RIM bring some great connectivity to the QNX platform. However, they do need to do some things different.

    Their big mistake was introducing the PlayBook before the OS and necessary apps were ready to go--it's a very good tablet and the browser beats all other tablet browsers as far as being able to use desktop web apps.

    Furthermore, they have some great features that are lacking in other platforms--presentation mode & pinch to zoom built into the video player come to mind.

    Hell, the PlayBook is the only tablet on the market that can pump out 1080p to hdmi while you do something else--ipad2 can't even doe 1080p and we know how well Android tablets have been handling 1080p not to mention none can do something else at the same time.

    Android becoming another Windows monopoly is NOT a good thing.

    Finding ways for devs to easily port their apps to other platforms is a good thing.

  • DavidR

    Reminds me of the situation with my beloved Palm. Yes, I loved my Treo, and it served me well for years. The device finally started to die, and I had to accept that Web OS was going nowhere and move to an Android. I'm very happy with it, and confident that there will be app development for it for years to come. Bullets have only two uses: biting and, well....

  • Merodan

    This is all good, but is there a marked for it?? Will blackbarry fans accept a android With a blackbarry launcher???? I am not sure this will save them. ... sorry.

    • Aeires

      But Android fans might like an Android phone with a BB launcher. Target the larger base and make it happen. Some will jump ship, but they'll be doing that anyway if they don't make big changes.

  • Toshistation

    One thing's for sure: RIM is f*cked.

  • Cliffy

    Good points, but one thing to consider also is that RIM may scoff at the idea because it would be too difficult to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Android horde. Sure they could integrate their messenger service and other security tools, but like you said, Android will soon out match RIM’s features. This would mean that any feature/service that could be implemented to set themselves apart in the Android realm would be eclipsed immediately or in very little time; leaving them with only hardware to differentiate themselves. They probably would want to stick with their software and hardware, rather than become another ‘cog’ in the Android machine.

  • Mat

    Since I've gotten into smart phones, I've always thought of a Blackberry like a neck tie... They aren't terribly comfortable, but necessary to look professional. And (at least for me) you want to take it off very shortly after putting it on :-P

  • cosmic

    I don't know that RIM has to throw bbos10 out the window. They're hanging on to the business sector(for now) and just dumping bbos all together would mean completely dumping their current marketshare in hopes of regaining enough of it/some of the consumer market. That is a pretty large gamble.

    The better bet would be to take the app player further. Talking about full Dalvik support. I know that wouldn't mean support for all apps but it would give them a big jump. Partner up with Amazon for the Amazon App Store. Whether this means signing a deal with Oracle or rolling the dice I'm not sure.

    • Kindroid

      You are aware...their market share of new phone sales, for the last three month period fell to 6%

      • cosmic

        It is still a profitable 6% and the business sector is much easier to hold on to vs regain.

  • ryry

    All valid points but I seriously doubt that they would fare very well as a manufacturer/competitor to Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG, Motorola, and others who have a head start and seem to be chugging along nicely.

    I for one don't give a flying rat f*** what RIM does, I ain't buying it. I think that they are truly screwed unless they can get into another electronics market entirely because the fast-changing smartphone market doesnt play well to their strengths.

  • Mark

    You know what's nice? When my blackberry chirps that there's an email or notification and I pull it out of my holster, that email message is immediately up on my screen. When I put it back in my holster, it turns off. If I pulled it back out of my holster, it's back to the main home screen. This is because it's smart enough to realize that if I pull it out of my holster after it chirps, it's that I'm interested in that email, so it pulls it right up. Beautiful. If I pull it out any other time, it knows I'm just pulling it out to use it, so bring up the home screen.

    Android needs something like that. There are a lot of great ideas and features that Blackberry has that should be transferred to Android, and if it's by way of a smartphone made by RIM that's quality tested and approved, and it's got RIM's heavy skin modifications on it, then so be it.

    • doug

      You still use a holster?

      • https://profiles.google.com/ISantop Ian

        He uses a Blackberry.

        Seriously, I don't think I've seen a Blackberry user keep their phone in their pocket. They place it on the table, in a purse, or use a holster, but never the pocket.

  • http://www.teamrou.com Phil Oakley

    If I was Thorsten Heins, I'd sell off the hardware business, get rid of every single person who works on BlackBerry hardware (except the people who make and design the QWERTY hardware), and start again. Use Android as the base OS, but do what Amazon has done with the Kindle Fire, and not use the Android Market. Get a good hardware designer, completely redesign the BlackBerry skin from the ground up, and generally make BlackBerry's completely different from what they are now.

    This is the only way to save RIM.

  • ex-iPhone user

    The best idea to save RIM... you should be made the new CEO instead of the guy who says, "I can't wait to see it" about BB OS 10. :P

    Pulling something off like the Kindle Fire would really help RIM guessing that the Kindle Fire sold more in 2011 than all the true-Android tablets combined.

  • Kindroid

    Sorry...where RIM really missed the boat (pun intended) was in not bringing a mid level Microsoft executive in as the new CEO....allowing them to enter the orbit of the WP7 juggernaut. Cut a mega deal with MS and live big for ever. Nokia is certainly showing how to blaze a path for mobile phone giants who have lost their way.....

    • https://profiles.google.com/ISantop Ian

      Nokia hasn't blazed a path yet. They're riding on the hope that the Lumia 800 has enough momentum until they can put out something more groundbreaking. The 800 is a great piece of hardware, but its still running a commercial flop of an OS.

    • SCOTT WOUWENAAR

       WP7 juggernaut?  You're joking right?

  • Wowee

    Switch to Android, lower prices significantly, and change up the advertising. That might pull RIM out of hole it's creating for itself.

  • minzhu

    RIM has strange culture and self distruct political environment.

    In RIM if a new hired person figure out major problem and introduce efficient approach, both manager and his buddy group member will proof their wrong approach works. just like someone point out driving a car is right way, pushing a car is wrong way, then both manager and his buddy group member will hate you, and proof that 3 person can also move the car by pushing it. cheating email will be sent to some vice president, saying like: see, the car moving, pushing a car is a natural part of the process, in order to deny new hired contribution of introducing skill of drive a car, they have to deny merit of driving a car.

    It is very strange company culture and strange company political environment, it promote stealing and cheating skill. RIM's management may be a typical instance in MBA course.

    This culture deny or steal hardworking team members' contribution/innovation, generate strange political environment, destroy RIM.

  • Justin

    That is hilaroous. I said this exact (in not so many words) thing this morning as a comment on the Engadget article about the CEO change. Port their big apps over, maybe even skin just a little for a familiar feel, and put it on your well known and loved hardware.

  • Gordon

    RIM is damned if they do and damned if they don't. RIM's hardware sucks and they would get commoditized regardless. so Android can't save them. But their software sucks so they need Android.

  • Owen Finn

    I think RIM needs to focus on its business clients, and abandon the idea of being a real competitor in the personal communication market.

  • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

    On the tablet side, I don't see how RIM can find a strategy to win back market share. Look, the tablet market is still a largely consumer market. We can look no further than the success of the Kindle Fire to find out why -- most tablet users just want a way to consume content. They are happy even if the tablet isn't an iPad, or even something remotely rivals the spec of an iPad, the industry leader. RIM has no infrastructure to support those customers. We are at least a couple years, or may be even a decade from seeing enterprises adopting tablets in full force.

    On the smartphone side, it's not looking so bright for RIM neither. The size of the platform's app store defines success. It will be impossible for RIM to compete with Apple and Google. Granted, they may not even be able to compete with Microsoft -- Windows 8 is probably going to help Microsoft get back in the game since development of a Windows 8 app is very similar to development of a Windows Phone app. At this moment, I can't see how RIM can give incentive to developers to make app for them (except to pay them in cash, I guess, but that's NOT a strategy.)

    Abandoning the OS business is probably a must. Focusing on making Android handsets that closely tie to its BlackBerry services does not sound like a bad choice.

  • sriracha

    David, you have now entered into my favorite author list. you are a cunning linguist, no doubt. thanks for the excellent read, and for being an android/tech fan so i can enjoy your work.

    any chance of you paperbacking your editorials a la Jeremy Clarkson?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com David Ruddock

      Thanks, sriracha - I always love to hear people enjoy my writing, not just what I write. Though I somehow doubt many people would be interested in reading my babblings in book form! I'd probably even get tired of them.

      • is

        Good article but take it easy in the metaphors - made it hard to read Lets keep it down to 1 or 2.

  • Ron

    Fantastic article, David!

  • Massa

    What differentiates BB from the rest? Their secured worldwide network. That, and that alone. They have deals in place with the likes of China and other hard-to-get countries which all other telco companies are surely watering their mouths over.

    The way forward?
    1. Ditch hardware.
    2. Offer the Blackberry platform -including its worldwide data security- FOR ANY SMARTPHONE (Android, iOS, W7) for a monthly fee per phone (or other such deals).
    3. Watch the dollars roll in.

  • eTiMaGo

    I have a high school friend, now living in Canada. The other day he PM'ed me out of the blue, extolling the virtues of the BB platform, etc... I asked him why he liked them so much, he answered he was working at RIM. My response? "I'm sorry to hear that". He never wrote back since :D