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Oct 21 2011   8:28AM GMT

RIM: Move on from BlackBerry

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Sometimes it pays to move on, no matter how much you have invested in something.

This summer Freakonomics Radio ran an episode titled “The Upside of Quitting,” which poked holes in the old adage “winners never quit and quitters never win.” Many people, the program argued, are unable to recognize that they have committed themselves to an endeavor that is failing. The more “sunk costs” someone has in such an endeavor, the less likely he or she is to give up on it.  No matter how hard it might be to admit it, sometimes it pays to just walk away and try something new.

And here we have Research In Motion (RIM), inventor of the once mighty BlackBerry, so popular a device that users dubbed it the “CrackBerry.” The BlackBerry was THE enterprise mobility device of the pre-iPhone era. A reliable platform for mobile email, contacts and calendars that offered mobility managers centralized control and rock-solid security, the BlackBerry made RIM a tech superpower.

That era of dominance is over. The ever-steepening decline of the BlackBerry, along with recent disasters like RIM’s global service outage, have a lot of people writing RIM obituaries. It’s prompted me to ask myself: Is it time for RIM to walk away from the BlackBerry?

RIM was almost too successful with the BlackBerry brand. The device is a household name while no one aside from IT managers and tech media know who RIM is. Mainstream marketing of any RIM device is pegged to the BlackBerry brand, not RIM.  RIM is a BlackBerry company. What else can it be?

We may find out the answer to that question soon. Android and Apple iOS devices have destroyed the BlackBerry’s share of the consumer mobile device market, and now it’s eating into RIM’s sweet spot: Enterprise mobility. Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) just announced that more than 30% of large enterprises (10,000+ employees) who are current BlackBerry users plan to migrate to a different platform within the next year. In its press release, EMA said:

“This represents a a significant reduction from the platform’s current domination of the large enterprise market space with 52% of mobile device users in that demographic actively using a BlackBerry device as part of their job function.”

RIM’s mobility architecture remains sound (despite the recent outage) but the company has struggled to keep pace with innovation in the device market. When Apple upended the smartphone industry with the iPhone in 2007, RIM responded with the BlackBerry Storm, an ill-fated try at a touchscreen smartphone that failed to catch on.

Then Apple’s iPad blew up the touchscreen tablet market and RIM responded with the PlayBook, which enjoyed strong early sales but got panned by gadget reviewers who said the software wasn’t fully baked. They also questioned RIM’s requirement that PlayBook users tether the tablet to a BlackBerry via Bluetooth in order to access native email and calendar applications. A nice security feature for enterprise IT, but ultimately limiting to users who were already impressed by the elegance of the iPad and some of the better Android tablets. Amid news that retailers were slashing PlayBook prices last month, gadget bloggers jumped on speculation by an investment analyst who suggested RIM had given up on the device, a rumor that RIM vehemently denied.

Then came this month’s service outage which turned 70 million BlackBerrys into bricks for several days. This has been a PR and customer service disaster, which prompted publications to come up with cute headlines like “RIM’s Outage: Nail in Coffin?” and “Is Research In Motion the walking dead?

It’s clear that the BlackBerry is in serious decline. Does it pay for RIM to stick it out and keep investing in it? This week at the BlackBerry DevCon America conference, RIM unveiled BBX, its next-generation device operating system. BBX is a combination of BlackBerry OS and QNX (the PlayBook tablet operating system). In a market where Windows Phone 7, Android and Apple iOS are all winning over users, does it make sense for RIM to evolve the BlackBerry OS like this? We saw Palm try to do this with WebOS. That didn’t go so well. Nokia walked away from Symbian and embraced Windows Phone 7. Should RIM walk away from BlackBerry?

How would you do that…. give up on the brand that defines your company? At this point, is it the BlackBerry user experience that RIM can hang its hat on? Or is it its middleware (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) and its network operating centers (NOCs)? Is RIM’s strength in its devices or its architecture?

Last May RIM announced that it was extending BlackBerry Enterprise Server support to Android and iOS devices. Perhaps that’s where RIM’s future lies. Incorporate non-BlackBerry devices into the architecture that won the hearts and minds of IT managers everywhere. Build value there. Sink R&D into that, not the next-generation BlackBerry. It’s not clear that going in that direction will be enough. The market for a mobility architecture might not be as large as one for a hot, new smartphone, but at least it’s a new direction that might work. It’s just a question of whether RIM wants to let go of device that it has so much invested in. And BlackBerry needn’t give up on devices, either. Instead, it could develop Android or Windows devices that are completely tied into the RIM architecture? Can RIM do that? Does it want to?

Sometimes it pays to quit. It doesn’t have to mean defeat. It can mean that you’ve decided to fight another battle that you think you can win.

2  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Bkkperson
    What a load of old crap, RIM has 70 million + customers and they should just abandon them? Whoever wrote this obviously doesn't use a Blackberry, in terms of actually using the phone as an actual phone and messaging tool rather than a gaming machine the BB wins hands down, neither IOS or Android come even close to the functionality and integration of a Blackberry, can you got any part of those platforms and immediately send via SMS,Email, Facebook, Whatsapp, BBM of course they cant, can the users of Android or IOS5 go into the contacts and see Twitter and Facebook updates..no ..sorry, can either IOS or Android see all messages from native and non native apps in one inbox, not this time.. in terms of using a phone as a phone a BB wins hands down, in terms of using a it for entertainment.. well thats what the Ipad is for..
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  • Shamus McGillicuddy
    These seventy-million-plus customers weren't enough to prevent this: http://money.cnn.com/2012/05/29/technology/rim-hires-bankers/index.htm?iid=HP_Highlight Staying the course was not an option.
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