Can RIM Return to its Former Glory?

By Tony Rizzo, Editor in Chief — April 03, 2012

Research in Motion has been sailing hard against the wind for quite some time now. There isn't any need to rehash last week's earnings report, or the many wrong steps the company has taken over the last several years. Nor is there a need any longer to lay blame at the doorstep of any one or several people. Since the new President and CEO Thorsten Heins came on board there has been a more humble - and more valuable - attitude emanating from the other side of the Canadian border.
 
Some of us vividly remember the hubris that "old school" RIM people had when the iPhone first arrived. It was not a good sign back then - especially as the company was gearing up to go head to head in the consumer market. It demonstrated a keen misunderstanding of what consumers would gravitate to, as well as a key underestimation of the iPhone's eventual appeal in the enterprise. None of these issues were of such magnitude back then that they could not have been corrected. But…they weren't, and management hubris was clearly at the heart of it.
 
We welcomed the new CEO when he was appointed, first because it was the right move RIM needed to make, and second, because it was a move we did not really believe RIM was capable of making. But the move was indeed finally made, and we look forward to RIM at least giving the rest of the mobile device world a run for its money as a result. 
 
We've mentioned in other articles that the upcoming BlackBerry World is going to be critical for RIM's survival. But reality strongly suggests that RIM is not going to be able to pull off any miracles in the available time frame. If Heins had been appointed at this time last year we'd have higher expectations for what RIM would need to deliver at BlackBerry World. 
 
The question at this point in time is not if RIM can astound us in early May, but whether or not it can at least demonstrate that there are exciting things coming just down the road. It is a start that we can expect the company to release BB 10 developer tools and associated BB 10 capable devices in May. And we can no doubt anticipate that there will be some kind of PlayBook announcement - although this isn't going to be a thunderclap. We can speculate on what that might be, but we surely doubt it will be a retina quality display. That leaves improved processor capabilities, better graphics speeds, and additional wireless connectivity options. Place your bets.
 
The interesting news right now is that Apple has placed its own bets on the table already - it was Apple's turn to show its hand following a slew of overly large though also impressively fast new devices shown at Mobile World Congress. BlackBerry now has the stage to itself. What does the company and Heins need to show us?
 
The Key Deliverables
 
First, we need to see very strong indications that Heins is truly ready to break with the past. It was highly encouraging last week to see that a number of senior management level people are leaving. There are others that need to do the same if Heins is to be successful at bringing in new blood, especially the CMO - who will have a huge job ahead of him or her. Heins needs to be free to invest his own time on this front, and cannot waste that time putting out old fires or dealing with old timers sniping away behind the scenes - something that has been a significant problem. 
 
Second, the company needs to demonstrate that it can - finally - break away from its keyboard mentality. Keyboards no longer matter, and small screens such as the Bold's are no longer of interest to most users - and more importantly - to most potential new users. Mobile users simply don't care, and while RIM can certainly offer a keyboard-based device, these are simply part of yesterday's product menu - they may be there, but they aren't what needs to be front and center for RIM relative to the marketing messages it needs to craft for its future. "Be Bold" is not going to cut it. The company needs to heed its own advice and it needs to be bold - it needs to demonstrate that it can make that break and go down an entirely different device path.
 
Rim has a great deal of opportunity ahead of it. Most of the major players - including such vendors as China's Hauwei - have shown their device hands. So, third, RIM needs to deliver a device that will provide a true cutting edge experience (and it needs that new management blood in house to do so). What can capture the imagination? It has to be remarkably thin - and no keyboard sliding phone is going to manage this. It needs to be a pure touchscreen device that packs a lot of fireworks. Ideally, it needs a retina quality display. Ideally, it needs a battery of the sorts that Motorola's DROID MAXX now delivers - while still remaining slim (as the MAXX manages to do at 8.99mm). 
 
And it needs a super-sleek overall design (though we suggest not looking to Porsche to help here). RIM needs to do some serious design homework and it needs to educate itself on what "sleek" and cutting edge really means to mobile users. There isn't much more to say here - RIM simply needs to execute. Heins provides a strong sense to some of us that he will be able to pull this off.
 
Fourth, the company must work hard to own some BB 10-based applications that will become true killer apps. It's well and good that the new devices will be able to run Android apps, but the truth is that RIM needs its own mobile app success stories - Garageband, iMovie, and yes, Angry Birds (or rather something akin to Angry Birds) - these come immediately to mind.

It isn’t just about the devices - there has to be really cool software that will allow RIM to capture an overwhelming share of the end user community's attention. To do so will require a device and application double strike. RIM has never had such a thing - its enterprise email application from a decade ago is just about the only killer app RIM has ever had (though It was one huge killer app back then).
 
So, we'll head into BlackBerry World not with the expectation that RIM will deliver all of this - but with the expectation that RIM can articulate a powerful plan for getting there in August and September. That it can articulate a powerful plan for a killer device and killer mobile applications.
 
The management departures last week leave us very hopeful and full of expectation for RIM pulling this off. There is lots of opportunity for RIM still, and with the right collection of people taking the helm over the next few months, we can hope that RIM will deliver.
 
We haven't made note here of other issues - such as a sale of the company, or looking at licensing deals. Our take on these issues is that they will do nothing but serve as distractions from the key goal of RIM returning to a position of prominence. We note here as well that Canada itself has a "national pride" stake in this outcome.
 
There is real opportunity to play the Phoenix rising from the ashes - for both the short and long term we believe this is the best way for RIM to provide the best return to its shareholders and to regain center stage.

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