There is no longer any doubt that Research in Motion is in trouble - real trouble. At the company's recent financials meeting last week it first announced results that, while lukewarm in nature, were nevertheless not as bad as was largely anticipated (they were in line with already lowered expectations). There wasn't much to cheer on the news that only 150,000 PlayBooks had been sold - even in the face of heavy discounting (as much as $300).
RIM did announce that it now has 75 million users (a number that continues to grow rather substantially even in the face of RIM's travails). Those users represent a very large base of opportunity - real opportunity. Having delivered numbers that met lowered expectations, the next part of the game plan should have been to provide some enlightened news of real progress - something that would have demonstrated resilience and that management at every level had gotten its groove back. That it would quickly offer something substantial to those 75 million users. It was not to be.
Instead RIM astounded everyone listening in by announcing that the next generation of BlackBerry - BlackBerry 10 devices - would not see the light of day until the second half of 2012. All discussion that followed seemed surrealistic in light of this announcement. Yes, the management team acknowledged that it is doing poorly in the United States, that the company will "leave no stone unturned" in working to figure out what needs to be done, and that RIM will invest heavy marketing dollars in North America to achieve as much sell through to customers as it possibly can.
Unfortunately none of this will matter. The only thing that grabs mobile users with active "voice of customer" personas - those who influence, recommend and speak loudly about their favorite devices - is hot new technology. Mobile users who look to discounts and heavy promotions - which are the only users RIM will attract - are not going to be heavy purchasing influencers. Though RIM may win a small sell-through war in terms of units sold, it will be a costly war and it will have no effect on RIM's future.
The questions need to be asked at this point in time - Can RIM survive? Can it reboot itself and not only survive (that isn't enough) but find a means to once again thrive?
The parallels to Palm are quite clear, and there is every indication that RIM will follow Palm's ultimate path. One of the key reasons that Palm failed is operating system-related. Had Palm gone down a different road, if it had not invested heavily in webOS (or rather if the Asian company that had created webOS from a Linux variant had not gone back and invested heavily in Palm itself) Palm may have opted to pursue a different path, perhaps joining the Android crowd.
The problem for RIM is that it isn't cheap, even at today's stock price. It has a great deal of enterprise infrastructure that requires support, it now has a great deal of marketing baggage that will be very hard to shed, and ultimately it no longer has any "street cred" with the mobile users that matter.
QNX - Truly gRIM
And…it has an operating system in hand that may simply be the wrong fit for the wrong company at the wrong time. Some of us place our votes here.
To date, everything that has gone wrong with RIM from a technical perspective is, in fact, directly traceable to QNX. It has proven to be an untamable beast so far, leaving the PlayBook half finished at its initial launch, leaving the PlayBook 2 in limbo rather than in the field for holiday sales, and it has now caused entire lines of new BlackBerry hardware that were to launch as BlackBerry 10 devices literally without a home. For whatever reasons, QNX is the major roadblock to RIM moving forward.
A far more managable beast is Android. RIM went to great lengths last year to promote that QNX would, in fact, be able to run Android applications. But if there is a marketing point to be made for running Android apps on QNX devices, why not simply cut out the middle man and deliver real Android devices? Had RIM spent its time innovating on new devices and "amazing" new features rather than trying to tame QNX (at huge expense, both in dollars and in time) it may very well have ended up in a different situation today.
By the time summer 2012 rolls around it will be an Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7 world, with plenty of new devices - smartphones and tablets - to keep the mobile enthusiasts excited. There will also be a new Nexus tablet from Google to deal with. The world will have moved on from what RIM will be trying to compete with in 2012 with yesterday's technology.
But perhaps the greatest irony is that Apple may very well launch a new and smaller iPad 3 - with the PlayBook's dimensions! - right about the time RIM is now supposed to launch its BlackBerry 10 devices. Where will all the buzz go? It's already started, and it's all about Apple.
Meanwhile, is there any doubt that QNX - BlackBerry 10 - will continue to prove that it cannot be mastered to fully deliver an outstanding mobile experience on a timely basis? Even the name has proven disastrous, with the former "new" name of BBX having to be withdrawn.
Are there implications in all of this for the enterprise? Yes. Everything that was discussed a few weeks ago in "Apple Begins to Dominate on BlackBerry's Enterprise Turf - Is it Game Over for RIM?
" takes on greater urgency. The timeframes discussed there will actually become shorter, and RIM is practically assured of continued erosion of its enterprise beachhead. BES infrastructure is no longer enough to make a corporate difference.
A RIM Reboot?
Is there anything RIM can do to keep the big blue sign in front of its headquarters from becoming a tombstone? Here is a very short list without elaboration:
- Business-side management needs to be entirely revamped
- The Chairman and CEO posts must become separate
- New management blood must drive new vision and create strong visionary appeal
- New management blood must drive new technology and finally get away from the entire current collection of endlessly revamped products (although this cannot be fixed until points 2 and 3 are fixed)
- Pull together a special team and do something special with Android!!!
Point 5 above is bold - is there anything RIM can really do to innovate on Android? Plenty - especially if the company focuses on what it can do in the enterprise rather than what it likely can't do in the consumer space. Lots of vendors - especially Samsung and HTC - are trying to bring Android here from the outside. RIM is still the insider in the enterprise and, with some vision and imagination it can in fact pull off a successful reboot. RIM - think about it.