That RIM (makers of Blackberry phones) is in its worst financial state in a long time is no longer news. “RIM is a sinking ship” has become a cliché in technology circles. Every blogger has become a prophet of doom. Needless to say, the consensus is that RIM needs to take drastic measures or go down. What is far from certain is what those drastic measures should be. Prophecy is not an exact science. Even at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where prophecy is a science, it is far from exact as Harry Potter fans and Professor Trelawney will readily tell you.
Experts agree RIM needs change but can’t agree on the exact course of action. To illustrate how divided the technology world is on this, consider this:
Amongst the Tektweet.com family, no two people have the same solution for RIM. Our in-house programmer Chuba Okanume believes RIM should dump its hardware business and concentrate on licensing its software like BBM to other phone manufacturers. Another programmer, Uche Okafor thinks RIM will fare better if they adopt Android as their opening operating system. Ufuoma Ozore, a seasoned tech blogger thinks RIM is doomed and that the time for redemption is long gone. Jennifer Obulo thinks adequately differentiating each Blackberry phone from one another may do the trick while improving on hardware and software. Like Ufuoma, Alita Jones and Jenuwa Efemena simply cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel for RIM. Quite clearly, there’s no agreement whatsoever on the solutions for RIM’s woes. Hence, this article will explore how and why RIM got to be in this position.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
Once upon a time, RIM was the company to beat and Blackberry was the phone to have. As recently as August 18, 2009, Fortune Magazine named RIM as the fastest growing company in the world with a growth of 84% in profit over three years despite the global recession. Constrast with recent times that has seen RIM lose over 80% of its value. RIM’s stock was once worth over $80 billion, now its $13 billion. In 2008, Rim’s share was priced at over $140, now it’s under $14. RIM once had about 50% market share in the lucrative American smartphone market. Blackberries were so popular that many people erroneously thought Blackberries were the only phones that could be called smartphones. RIM had 100% of the corporate smartphone market. Things were rosy and everything RIM turned to gold. How did things become so bad?
WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG
Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 to critical acclaim. The iPhone changed the way we interact with our phones and changed the definition of a smartphone. Although, the iPhone was immensely popular, it carved a niche for itself and didn’t significant threaten Blackberry’s market share. Problems however started when the Android platform became popular. Android offered iPhone-like functionalities on a variety of devices with cost effective options. Android slowly began to eat into the market share of RIM and other smartphone platforms like symbian. As time went by, prospective smartphone users had virtually two choices; iPhones or Android. As iPhones and Android phones took over the consumer market, the hitherto immune corporate market began to be swayed to consider non-Blackberry phones. At the moment, RIM’s grip on the corporate world is still fairly strong but iPhones and Android phones are increasingly encroaching and at this rate it’s only a matter of time before they replace Blackberry phones.
WHAT RIM DID WRONG
1. Refusal to Innovate: RIM was so blinded by its success that it failed to see the impending danger of not keeping up with its competitors. iPhones introduced consumers to new possibilities and Android took it a step further but RIM stalled and stuck with the old thing believing in their tried and tested formula. Ironically, that formula became their Achilles heel.
2. Pushing Out Virtually The Same Products: Once upon a time, Blackberry phones had a scroll wheel, then a trackball and later a trackpad. Those nifty changes helped attract old and new customers and gave them a reason to upgrade to the latest Blackberry phone. Then RIM stopped. They began to push out the same products with different names. Old wine in new bottle is a fitting description. To this very moment, many cannot tell apart a Bold 2 from a Bold 4 or a Curve 2 from a Curve 3. This lack of hardware changes made users tired of paying for the same kind of device over and over again. Many decided to explore new grounds and jumped ship.
3. The BBM Illusion: How often we hear Blackberries are excellent messengers. Ordinarily, that would be fine until you realize Android and iPhones excel in more than messaging. RIM’s marketing strategy depended on promoting messaging and BBM and in essence conditioned the mind of Blackberry users to BBM (and a few other social/messaging apps) as the only useful apps. Hence, Blackberry users shut off their minds and phones to third party apps. This situation wasn’t helped by the inadequacy show by Blackberry phones in handling third party apps. Restrictions on where to store apps and terrible app performance certainly didn’t help matters. Needless to say, these conditions drove app developers away. This in turn led to a very poor app ecosystem that has seen Blackberry fall behind iOS, Android, Windows phone and Symbian in sheer number of apps. RIM failed to spot the problem early enough and when it did, it was too little too late. Allowing Blackberry Playbook and phones to run Android apps may sound like an option but it’s inadequate.
4. Wrong Pricing: Blackberry phones are expensive. A Blackberry phone with similar specs as another android phone is usually more expensive for no good reason. Hence, those who are able to see above the Blackberry hype can spot the discrepancy and usually opt for the cheaper yet more capable device.
5. Obsolete Hardware: For all the praise RIM gets for its “solid” hardware, the fact is that its devices are always two steps behind. Camera, processor and RAM are a few areas where RIM always seems to lag behind the competition from other platforms. This trend affected the image of Blackberry phones as people began to see them as old fashioned. Coupled with the not so attractive appearance, Blackberries are considered “not sleek”.
6. Terrible UI and Software: Of all smartphone platforms, RIM has the worst user interface. It is simply ugly. In this era of HD games and apps, people want to see beautiful interfaces. At the moment, Blackberry phones simply do not offer that.
Another problem with Blackberry phones is its half baked software. Blackberry’s native browsers are terrible. Some blackberry phones cannot mark several files. To receive Bluetooth files, you must first pair devices and click “receive”. All these little details are what make up a capable smartphone and RIM has ignored them to their detriment.