As a BlackBerry fan, it’s hard to look at the latest headlines that talk about RIM and their BlackBerry smartphones. Many of them talk of RIM’s impending demise like some sort of tech-industry rapture as if the blessed companies Apple and Google were the only ones to remain in the mobile space. I’ve pretty much heard all the lines by now, from “no apps”, or “too little, too late” to anything related to their apparently clueless management.
Of course, it’s easy to see how one could be led to think so. A poor quarter (and even worse ones to follow I’m sure), a hammered stock price, a shrunken subscriber base in the US, and some very public incidents related to either some employees on a plane or a service outage. Sure, RIM is going to go through some hard times over the next year because most of the smartphone market truly shifted away from them much faster than they thought. After all, a smartphone isn’t defined by the fact that it can do email, and personal information anymore. It’s now a multi-purpose tool and entertainment device, something the competition simply did better.
But the last time I checked, dead meant dead. It just so happens that “dead” is a much easier and flashier way to say “facing tough challenges”. If you look at the advantages RIM has, they are pretty substantial: over 76 million current subscribers, enterprise dominance, a strong fan base, some money in the bank, secure communications technologies, software to hardware control and a strong international presence. This isn’t to say that the competition is in trouble, as they have more money, talent, subscribers and momentum. I’m just saying RIM still has quite a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a mistake to underestimate them.
Apps isn’t one of their strengths. We all know that, thanks to Apple (mostly). The BlackBerry App World on current BlackBerry smartphones does have fewer apps than the competition, poorer app quality, an unfriendly app platform, and poor tools for developers. This is what most people think of when talking about RIM’s mobile ecosystem. Let’s be clear though, I’m talking about the old App World for BlackBerry smartphones. There are some key areas where RIM has really focused their efforts:
The new QNX-based operating system, found on the PlayBook, brings support for HTML5 apps, Flash apps, C++ apps, web apps, and many Android apps. Apps are no longer installed on the same memory the operating system uses either. You also have many of big name apps like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and Dead Space already. RIM is also supporting many open-source game engines and environments in an effort to become as developer-friendly as possible.
But it’s also the latest moves from RIM’s development team that have me optimistic about the future. They are going after young developers, giving them free PlayBooks, winning awards for social media support, providing the proper tools to easily create astonishing (no pun intended) apps, educating developers about the profit potential with BlackBerry, and hosting tons of seminars and workshops on development for the BlackBerry 10 platform with BlackBerry Jam.
RIM’s recent acquisitions such as JayCut, The Astonishing Tribe, QNX, Tungle, tinyHippos, NewBay, and ScoreLoop are all helping to put the pieces of the new platform together. With the help of JayCut, video-editing capabilities should soon come to BlackBerry 10. The wizards at The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) are the one’s bringing the much-anticipated new user interface tools to QNX-based BlackBerry 10. The tungle.me solution is being implemented as a smarter scheduling solution that will undoubtedly be integrated into BlackBerry 10. The developers with tinyHippos are making developers lives easier with web-based solutions for HMTL5 applications. With NewBay on board, RIM is positioned to provide a cross-platform cloud solution for BlackBerry devices. The cross-platform gaming solutions provider ScoreLoop is creating a unified gaming ecosystem which is already setup for developers to leverage for PlayBook apps. With RIM’s focus on these cross-platform developer tools and integrated solutions, RIM is writing a recipe for success to cook up some innovation in BlackBerry 10.
3) Corporate attitude
With the latest news of additional cuts in senior management employees, RIM’s CEO Thorsten Heins is drastically changing the attitude of the company. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen him increasingly embrace the “Be Bold” attitude in his leadership and take those important aggressive changes RIM needs to complete the transition to a new platform. The appointment of Dan Dodge, the CEO and co-founder of the QNX operating system, is now the lead software architect at RIM. The former co-CEO Jim Balsillie has stepped down as director during the transition. During the last earnings call, Thorsten Heins clearly outlined the challenges the company faces and the tough position they are in. As sobering and poor as the results were, it is refreshing since it’s the first time the company has clearly acknowledged its poor performance as a consequence of the market shift. Thorsten talks about RIM’s shortcomings as disappointments without excuses. Adequacy is no longer company policy. It’s now difficult to question this CEO’s will to try to re-dominate the market with all the recent changes to senior-level staff.
With all these recent developments and efforts, RIM’s position in the mobile space is precarious. But precarious is much better than hopeless. They have firmly put their faith in BlackBerry 10 going forward. The stakes are higher, and it will take a huge effort to make BlackBerry 10 a success. The difference is that before, RIM didn’t seem like it was capable of that kind of effort. With all the hype and momentum in the Android and iOS platforms, some analysts are counting RIM out already. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the mobile industry usually moves faster than most analysts can predict. We’ve also seen that with Microsoft and Apple, a platform does not have to grow at the expense of another. The good news is RIM is now hungry for market share and working at 110%. Come to think about it, you might feel that the complacent RIM we knew is now dead. But we like the new one much better. RIM is decidedly focused on creating the best mobile platform out there. RIM is now thinking like a startup—and hungrier than ever.