There aren’t too many opinionated pieces on N4BB, except reviews. One may occasionally see rants on Twitter or elsewhere, but that’s usually the only place to see spouts of anger or disbelief. However, one would be a fool if they haven’t noticed that within the last few years Research In Motion has been steadily declining for various reasons. This is the reason I have now felt it be my duty to unravel the (at least) top 5 reasons of what might be causing RIM’s decline in consumer loyalty and how they can change it.
1.) Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words
RIM has started getting a bad rap for product launches and the software associated with the (at times) outdated hardware. Looking back at the last two ‘mainstream’ product launches you’ll start to understand. Let’s start with the Torch 9800. Comparatively, it had mediocre resolution, re-used hardware from other BlackBerry devices, and an overall ornamental design that seriously lacked innovation. Yet, when RIM announced it along with AT&T they talked up the Torch as if it were the best phone to hit the market. An advertising campaign showed the Torch to be “less of an evolution, more like a triple axle”. I can imagine most of the bloggers and reporters sitting there as the Torch was announced, scratching their heads while thinking ‘”really?”. While the Torch had fair sales, and at the time was ‘the best’ BlackBerry, it failed to match or otherwise overtake any of the devices from RIM’s competitors. The Torch was certainly not a ‘triple axle’. But what was even worse was the OS 188.8.131.52 that came bundled on the device. I can’t think of an anymore worse and buggier build I’ve ever encountered.
Lets now take a look at the PlayBook, RIM’s first-ever BlackBerry tablet. The PlayBook was announced 6 months before it was released. RIM doesn’t usually announce a device so far in advance. Some believe it could have been a bad thing, as consumer interest may have slowed before the PlayBook actually launched. But the real problem with the PlayBook wasn’t necessarily it’s release date, but more of it’s rush to the market. RIM showed off BlackBerry Bridge, the current way to get e-mail, BBM, calendar, and other features onto the PlayBook through the use of a BlackBerry smartphone. Bridge looked pretty stable and an efficient ‘buffer’ until native apps were integrated into the PlayBook. RIM had the idea that the Bridge feature would free up BES admins and make the PlayBook secure. However, if you bought a PlayBook on launch day you’ll know that the Bridge feature wasn’t even available! This was a huge slap in the face to the poor person who just shoveled out a minimum of $500. RIM finally released the Bridge app a week later, but without support from AT&T (RIM’s biggest carrier supporter in the U.S.). The second issue lied with the selection of apps. What I don’t think RIM understands yet is it isn’t necessarily about the hardware the majority of the time, but the experience a consumer has with the software and overall UI. The PlayBook may have had the most apps when it launched, I’ll give RIM that much. But the quality of the apps was severely lacking. The most likely reason for this was that RIM did not release the native SDK or have dev units ready for developers before the PlayBook’s launch. Developers were therefore forced to use a terrible PlayBook Simulator with only Adobe AIR and WebWorks SDK’s. A lot of the apps at launch day either half worked or didn’t work at all. Another big reason for this may have also been the ‘PlayBook giveaway’ RIM used to entice developers to submit apps. I believe most people simply made half-assed apps so they could get a free PlayBook. Thus, the combination of the things above have placed the PlayBook into a weird limbo of some things being great about it, while others bring it down. The PlayBook was by no means a flop, but it definitely was not executed well and you can see it’s beginning to hit home.
RIM could fix this, relatively easily. Sometimes they have to get things ‘quickly’ to the market in order to stay relevant, but I figure it’d be better to take time and release a solid product. One that doesn’t make you feel like you’re still ‘beta testing’ it and making you hope RIM quickly releases an OS update to resolve the issues. RIM needs to start putting their money where their mouth is and dish out products that make a user think ‘Wow this device is incredible, I almost can’t find anything wrong with it’. Instead of having the consumer hoping and praying months down the road RIM will fix the issues abound, but to have them only find out a new, better version of their device is about to release. If something is going to be labeled a ‘triple axle’ or that ‘amateur hour is over’, it seriously needs to be coming to market with guns blazing.
2.) Announce it to release it, or say exactly when
RIM usually announces a new product months in advance of its actual release date. Sometimes they won’t even ‘announce’ it but let it do a silent launch (like the Storm2). With the announcements RIM usually gives a very vague release time-frame. Maybe RIM does this because they think it will draw hype, but all I have ever seen it accomplish is it makes consumers clamor over when they think it will release, often times resulting in arguments, and the spreading of false information. I believe it would do RIM and the consumer good service if RIM did one of two things: Announce a new product and make it available the same day, next day, or at most a week later. Or, if they announce months ahead, at least specify a date of its availability.
With the subsidized plans most of North America has, consumers usually base their next contract agreement with a phone they desire. If a consumer is uncertain about when the device they like will release, they have less of a time to plan for its purchase. I would almost think that they may even be more enticed to another device or platform where they know its release date and if it lines up with when their contract is up for renewal.
More, and more companies (Google, Apple, etc.) have been announcing new products and then shortly thereafter we see it hit the market while the hype is still high. I believe if RIM can stage their announcements and releases in sync, this will keep consumers well informed and the demand generally in tact until the product is released.
3.) Drop the 10yr product roadmap
RIM is just now coming out of their last decade product plan and their getting ready for the next 10yrs. While it is great to plan ahead with what you think will be the way the market will shift, sometimes you just have to adapt accordingly. Within the last few years the mobile industry has changed drastically. Touchscreen devices are the new thing, and word has it that 3D-enabled phones are the next big deal. What we’ve learned from 2007 was that RIM was not ready for touchscreen technology to take off as it has. Rumor was that when Apple announced the iPhone, RIM thought it was a joke and that a phone like the iPhone couldn’t have such a large touchscreen without murdering the battery life. I’m no Apple fanboy, but we know how history went.
RIM’s answer to the iPhone was the BlackBerry Storm. It is arguable as to whether Verizon is to blame for the reason the Storm was pushed so quickly to market, but nonetheless the Storm is undoubtedly the biggest flop in RIM’s history. Even the Storm2 failed to garner enough firepower to take on the iPhone. As a result it seems that RIM may have completely killed the Storm brand.
What this said about RIM was that they were under-prepared for the shift in the mobile industry. Listening in to RIM’s last shareholders call, it was clear that they were planning for the next 10yrs and this is when they announced OS 6.1 would be renamed to OS 7. RIM also made it clear that QNX would then likely be ‘OS 8’ and the hopeful savior of the BlackBerry platform. But what is still unknown is when exactly we’ll see QNX on a BlackBerry smartphone, or as RIM is calling them, a ‘superphone’. Rumor has it we will see a QNX BlackBerry superphone sometime in 2012, and whenever a dual-core device can be made that keeps up with the strict requirements RIM holds for battery life. However, consumers need a BlackBerry device they can hold next to an Android or iPhone and not notice any lacking features, not in another year, but today. Consumers and shareholders a like need to see RIM ‘fight’ to stay relevant. But by sticking with their old 10yr plan with long, drawn out staggered releases, they’re essentially slitting their own throats. This is why RIM needs to throw out their old ways and jump aboard a speed rail to propel them either forward or at least make them current.
4.) Consolidate the brands of BlackBerry
Options are sometimes good, but in many cases too many options can lead to saturation. This is the case with the many different BlackBerry models available on the market in North America and around the world. RIM has tiny phones, flip phones, all touchscreen phones, half touchscreen with a physical keyboard, and so on. Having such a broad product line has caused a lot of inconsistencies with consumer experience. This namely has to do with the device specific OS builds. It is not often that two devices or more will share the same OS that addresses the same bug issues, and more.
Inconsistencies within the BlackBerry brand leads to confusion, which leads to customers not entirely enjoying the product. This is why RIM should look to focus on at most 2 or 3 types of BlackBerry devices, rather than giving you half a dozen. This way RIM will have more resources to make the devices better, and their OS’ should be relatively similar. Therefore, the BlackBerry experience will be nearly identical and should make each device more feature rich.
5.) Universally release RIM-built software
RIM really knows how to let its customers down. One of the biggest ways RIM has been giving low blows to its consumers has been by releasing RIM-built software and apps by regions. So while a new Twitter app is available in North America, it may not be in South America, and so on. You can imagine the frustration people endure when they have to wait for months to get the same software and apps as their North American counterparts. I can’t even begin to comprehend why RIM would do staggered releases. Maybe their servers would explode if users world-wide began downloading the same app at the same time? Who knows. Nonetheless, RIM needs to have equality in their software and app releases. This will universally keep consumers excited to use their BlackBerrys if they can share in the same experiences as the rest of the users around the world.
Not all things are completely terrible with RIM. They know how to successfully enter an emerging market and have smartphones ready with prices the people can afford. The BBM platform has been an essential tool for connecting users around the world, and their e-mail push is still the industry standard. While no smartphone manufacturer is perfect, RIM still has the potential to be #1 once again. Hopefully, RIM will take heed to re-innovate, and seek to do what the consumers want. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be let down. Please understand that these critiques of RIM are for the sole purpose of bettering the BlackBerry platform I hold so dear. Drop us a comment on things you believe RIM should do to help rebuild the BlackBerry consumer loyalty.