What happened to RIM

Since RIM’s recent announcement with regard to dampening spirits within, people have been asking the question, what happened to RIM?

I suspect a few of the key players at RIM may, at least in private, be asking themselves the very same question. Note the title of this post is not in the form of question but rather an attempt by this observer to take at stab the answer.

Earlier today while in Ottawa I had occasion to hear CFRA’s Rob Snow ask the same question of his audience. A flow of decent opinion flowed.

As well, “It’s time to call it: The Blackberry will never rise again” in this piece on Techi is a pretty good read.

However none of the framing I have seen to date captures quite correctly what I think happened. And it is, in my humble opinion, very simple.

It has to do with what I believe is a drastically different philosophical approach between what Apple believes versus what the makers of Blackberry believe is the definition of that thing we carry around with us 24/7 called a smartphone, PDA, or whatever.

To RIM it’s a work device on which we may do personal things, whereas to Apple it’s a personal device on which we can also do work stuff. In the end, an fMRI brain scan would show that Apple’s philosophy and approach has much greater appeal to our subconscious than RIM’s impact on conscious decision making.

For years I myself was guilty of the heard-like mentality that so-called serious business people, with serious business computing requirements like – wait for it -push email, would only use a blackberry. iPhone’s were for left-brained artsy-farsties.

Oh sure, on a Blackberry you could figure out a way to listen to an MP3, but doing so was almost frowned upon. Like you had violated a secret code of conduct. Serious business people, you know…the ones that have Blackberries, don’t listen to music. Well, certainly not 9-5.

By contrast, Steve Jobs sells me a device on which I can do [better] all the personal stuff I might like to do; talk, text, listen to music, surf, email, Facebook, twiter, play a game, but also let’s me do work; talk, text, email…etc., but does not make me feel guilty about doing what I do in my day job to earn a living. In fact, I would argue he lets me do both, work and play, better on an iPhone/iPad than on a Blackberry/Playbook.

I can already hear all the BB weenies lining up to tell me I am wrong. Anything I can do on my iPhone or my iPad they can do on their Blackberry or Playbook. No doubt this is true. Just like a screw-driver can be used as a hammer. You get my point.

I for one am not yet prepared to say RIM is Canada’s Nortel part-deux. Like Nortel when it first started to show signs of going south and being out of touch with its marketplace, RIM has a very strong and loyal customer base.

I agree with the Techi piece, it’s probably too late for RIM to win back the people like me who at one time or another switched from Blackberry to Apple or to Android, much less the people who never used a RIM device. But RIM can, if it chooses wisely, do things to prevent a mass of customer exodus.

The question is, do RIM’s two most senior executives understand and accept the premise they initially chose the less appealing philisophical approach? And if they are honest and humble enough to do so, next steps don’t simply involve being a Apple or Android copy cat.

The solution is far more complex and sophisticated than that.


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2 Responses to What happened to RIM

  1. Doug says:

    Interesting! If you were managing or responsible for the cost and productivity of a group of employees what would you issue to them? Blackberry cannot compete with Apple or Android by appealing to the personal use market. They should concentrate on marketing to the business owner and manager trying to control the activities of an independent workforce with multiple modern distractions. They should differentiate not copy.

    • danbaril says:

      I agree with only part of what you said and in fact stated in my original post that RIM mustn’t just be a copy-cat in the consumer space. The term you use “differentiate” is a good one, however, the way in which RIM currently differentiates IS the problem.

      Owner/Managers who, similar to RIM, believe their employees “live to work” versus “work to live” are out-of-touch. Marketing to that differentiating mentality is what got RIM into trouble in the first place. It’s okay to have product that is more business than consumer orientated up until the point where lines blur between the tools we require/desire for work versus personal activities. At that point, and as I argue in my post, a person’s subconscious wants overtake any and all conscious needs and there is little one can do to fight that. At least not for any length of time.

      Costs and productivity are not so much “controlled” by dictating what device a workforce gets to use, but rather by creating the right sticks and carrots for achieving various levels of personal and corporate success. Placing limitations on what device a workforce can use, or what functions that device is allowed to perform best is not the answer to cost and productivity control and/or objectives.

      RIM must, if it is to survive, first and foremost abandon the “live to work” philosophy, but then as you say it must also find a way to differentiate itself in the same ubiquitous space which is now dominated by a growing Apple and Android. As a colleague pointed out to me via email following my blog post “…when I see my kid’s grade 6 pals with iPhones, you know BB’s goose is cooked.”

      The technology industry is cruel. Unlike politics where no matter how serious the faux-pas all can be forgiven, in the technology industry it is increasingly the case that after strike-one you’re out! We have Nortel, among others, to thank for that.

      RIM’s current number one asset is the degree of customer loyalty they enjoy from BB users. Job 1 for RIM is to protect that asset and by my calculation it only has between 3-6 months at most to prove in a demonstrable way that it is committed and succeeding in doing so. If it fails at even this primary task, then like my colleague said its goose will be cooked before the US Thanks Giving … a month after iPhone 5 will be out, and I am willing to bet, within ear-shot of an iPad 3 announcement. That, my friend, is a damn tough act to compete against!

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