RIM: How Not To "Hit the Ground Running"
The smartphone business, both consumer and enterprise, is driven by new imperatives and RIM is losing by continuing to stick to its old ways.
Research In Motion (RIM) has announced yet another plan for how they intend to reverse their precipitous slide in the smartphone business, a business they helped to create. Speaking at the BlackBerry Developers Conference in San Francisco, Co-CEO Mike Lazaridus announced a new plan for the company's software migration. The old plan was to phase out the current BlackBerry operating system (currently BlackBerry 5 or BlackBerry 6) after the next iteration (BlackBerry 7) and begin using QNX, the operating system on both the BlackBerry PlayBook and the smartphones. Now the plan is to have another operating system called BBX, which will combine the BlackBerry and QNX--no date for that new operating system was provided. As this was a "Developers Conference", I just pray no one was injured in the stampede to the exits.
Watching this story unfold reminded me of a trick I heard many years ago for working on roofs--I never tried it. This guy told me that if you're working on a roof and start to lose your balance what you should do is "Run down hill". This sounds rather counterintuitive, but he said the problem is that you've lost your balance because your center of gravity is off kilter and what you want to do is get your feet back underneath you again. Of course it is important to recognize the obvious limitations of such a strategy (i.e. the edge of the roof!), or you will give a new meaning to that phrase "Hit the ground running".
RIM is sprinting down that roof with total abandon. Back in 2009, I wrote a piece called "Standing on the RIM--(And Staring into the Abyss)", that predicted the ascendance of Android, the demise of WebOS, and a rapid decline for RIM unless they get their stuff together quickly and came up with something to slow the defection of consumer users. Well it's two years later and all of this is playing out with depressing fatalism. I also suggested RIM buy Motorola Mobility to get a play in the growing Android market; I think someone beat them to that. About the only thing I failed to predict was the bring your own device (BYOD) movement that triggered similar losses among enterprise users as well.
As everyone has given their assessments of how RIM managed to fall so far so fast, here's my list:
* Do Stuff People Can't Notice Real Well: RIM builds great products (for specific purposes) with a depth of quality engineering and design that's truly astounding. When you look at bread and butter capabilities like battery life, audio quality, radio/antenna technology, user interface design (for the aforementioned "specific purposes"), RIM builds a great product. Unfortunately, the first few iterations of the iPhone proved that people will bend over backwards (i.e. turn off Wi-Fi when not in use, charge the thing at every possible opportunity, etc.) if you do the stuff they really want to do. At this party, "bread and butter" doesn't hold up to ice cream and chocolate cake.
* Ignore Stuff People Really Want: Top of that list is apps, speed, simplicity, and a compelling touch screen interface. Apple flat out kills RIM in web access and network dependent apps that just work faster. RIM’s browser is "plodding"--Apple's sings. Even getting simple stuff to work on a BlackBerry is too much trouble. I was in Europe recently and had turned off the 3G data service on my BlackBerry to avoid the international data rip off; when I'm on vacation, I can wait for my email until I get back to the hotel. We stopped into a Starbucks in Vienna that had free Wi-Fi, and I was able to associate on the Wi-Fi network with no problem. However, when I tried to open a web page (to trigger the "I Accept" page) my BlackBerry told me there was a problem and I should contact my mobile operator. "Hello?" Those are the people I was trying to avoid.
* If you do Have Something People Want, Don’t Tell Them: The crazy thing is that there actually are a bunch of great apps for the BlackBerry (not "tens of thousands", but "a bunch"). They have Pandora and Slacker (Web Radio), Flixster (movies), Poynt and Superpages (local search), ScoreMobile (sports scores), Carfinder, WeatherBug, and BlackBerry Travel, which is hands down the best travel app a business user could every have. Have you ever seen an ad touting BlackBerry apps? The last major media campaign was to launch the PlayBook, a device that has virtually no applications at all.