So long, RIM, and thanks for all the phones

Jun 29, 2012
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Oh RIM. Where did it all go wrong? The company has been flailing for some time now, but its dismal financials on the latest earnings call paired with the announcement that BlackBerry 10 won’t make an appearance until the first quarter of next year has almost certainly sealed RIM’s fate. It’s not quite the end of the road just yet, but the light at the end of the tunnel is growing dimmer with each passing day.

[Image credit: miggslives]

The sad fact is that all of this could have been avoided. The company was slow to act in the wake of Apple’s smartphone bombshell back in 2007, believing that consumers would always want a hardware keyboard. Steve Ballmer famously criticized Cupertino’s phone at the time, but even the Windows giant saw the writing on the wall and quickly moved to revamp its own mobile operating system. It’s fair to say that Microsoft has had an uphill struggle itself, still clinging to single digit market share numbers despite the recent launch of the Nokia Lumia 900 in the United States.

Now look back at RIM, a company with nowhere near the same resources that started developing its own answer to iOS and Android even later than Microsoft. Not only that, but the latest news from RIM marks the second time the OS has been delayed. Back in December 2011, RIM claimed it made a strategic decision to delay the platform until late 2012 to wait for a dual-core chip with LTE compatibility, yet a few short months later a wealth of smartphones with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and LTE solutions hit the market. Perhaps the real reason is that RIM is simply struggling with the development of BlackBerry 10.

Sure, the company tried to dip its toe into the next-generation OS waters with the introduction of the Blackberry PlayBook, but it was met with mixed reviews and poor sales. The app ecosystem on the PlayBook is also looking quite dire, despite the company’s insistence that the majority of what’s available will be able to run on BlackBerry 10 when it does eventually launch.

[aquote]The additional delay might as well be the final nail in the coffin[/aquote]

The additional delay might as well be the final nail in the coffin for the company. Phones like the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III, and iPhone 4S are all vying for customers’ attention, and RIM’s competitors aren’t standing still. By the time BlackBerry 10 and associated handsets finally make it to market, RIM will have to compete with the next iPhone, the next Nexus device(s?) from Google, and Windows Phone 8.

But wait! BBM and the enterprise market are what’s keeping the company afloat, right? Even those areas are slowly being eroded. BBM used to be a strong selling point for the company, but once again the world has moved on while RIM has stood still. Apple introduced iMessage with iOS 5, taking a direct shot at RIM and bundled carrier text messages in the process. Even if you’re not an iOS user or don’t dig closed messaging standards, there are a wealth of alternatives that are cross-platform compatible: Google Talk, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik Messenger, even Samsung’s ChatOn. The fact of the matter is that BBM isn’t anywhere near as relevant as it once now that everyone has their own cross-platform solutions.

The enterprise and business markets will be the next to slip through RIM’s grasp. Make no mistake: Apple and Google are eyeing up both territories, with BYOD schemes already seeing employees swapping out their antiqued BlackBerry handsets for iOS and Android devices. It’ll take awhile for the tech giants to fully grasp the security needs of the business world, but you can bet that RIM’s competitors are busy working behind the scenes to make their devices business friendly.

Even in the face of financial turmoil, job cuts, and the BlackBerry 10 delay, RIM believes it can somehow license out the new operating system. Let’s just think about that for a second: it wants to license out an operating system that won’t even be released for at least another six months. Who would even consider jumping aboard BlackBerry 10? HTC and Samsung are quite content with Android right now, with both companies also occasionally flirting with Windows Phone. It’s hard to imagine Chinese OEMs like ZTE or Huawei touching BlackBerry 10 either.

And yet, despite all of this, RIM is a company that knows the jig is up. On yesterday’s earnings conference call, the company announced that it had hired JP Morgan and RBC Capital to explore options and find a way to leverage the company’s assets. The first port of call may be to try and license BlackBerry 10 - a move that most likely is going to fail spectacularly - but it’s clear that RIM is considering every scenario, including the possibility of an acquisition. And why not? The company has a healthy patent portfolio, networking infrastructure, and strong relationships with carriers across the world.

In which case the only remaining question is: who’s going to buy RIM?


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