Blackberry Woes (Part 2): What RIM Must Do
In part one of this article, we talked about the precarious situation RIM is in at the moment and how bleak the future is for the company. Here comes the hard part; steps RIM must take if it is to regain its former dominant position or at least remain competitive in today's ultra-competitive smartphone industry.
NOTE: These steps are not guaranteed to save RIM. Most people in the tech world will readily tell you RIM has gone beyond the point of return. Nonetheless, this writer feels there's still a little hope albeit a small one.
STEPS RIM MUST TAKE
1) Maintain Its Unique Identity: Many experts have urged RIM to jump ship and move to Android. I believe that will be a costly mistake. Blackberry has die hard fans. Jumping ship will be like a captain abandoning a ship that's sinking while there are still stranded passengers onboard. It will only alienate the few fans they have left. RIM needs those "few" fans to make a comeback. Worse still, it will only display RIM's lack of faith in itself to the world. How can you convince others to have faith in you when you do not believe in yourself? I hear critics saying 'but Nokia did it!'. Yes they did but Nokia is not RIM. RIM and Blackberries offer unique services. On the contrary, Nokia hadly had any unique services on symbian. Some may wonder 'cant RIM offer those unique services on another platform'? They can but they will not be in the drivers sit. They will rely on Google for OS functions and updates and that will make things really complicated. For instance, Ice Cream Sandwich Android update has been out since last November, yet manufacturers are yet to get them to devices. Can RIM handle that sort of pressure while trying to offer its unique services? Companies like RIM thrive on being independent and work at their own pace. Nokia didnt just jump to Windows Phone, they signed a deal that made them "strategic partners". Meaning they have a lot of say in Windows Phone development. Furthermore, jumping to Android could be likened to a fish jumping into a pond with so many other fishes and a few big sharks. RIM cannot compete with Samsung and HTC spec-wise. If their software is similar, people will have no reason to choose blackberries over Samsung Galaxy phones, HTC one series or even Sony Xperia phones.
2) Keep and Improve BB OS: This is an extension of step 1. If rumours are anything to go by, RIM is on the right track with Blackberry 10 OS. Sticking with BB OS allows RIM to be unique while remaining masters of its destiny. It will also allow RIM to satisfy its unique set of customers. For this to effective, BB OS will have to be fun, intuitive and beautiful. It will also have to be as capable as other platforms while offering unique services from RIM.
3) Court App Developers: It's no coincidence that the two leading smartphone platforms also have the two largest app ecosystems. Apps drive a platform, so having app developers on your side is a must. BB OS should be easy to develop for and marketing should include strategy to convince Blackberry users to use apps other than Blackberry Messenger.
4) Create Variety: Different Blackberry models should look and feel different. Of equal importance is the need for upgrades to existing models to have easily recognisable upgrades and look as unique as possible. Nobody wants an old wine in a new bottle. Money doesn't come easily. If people are to spend their hard earned cash, they must be convinced they are getting something different and new.
5) Make Prices Competitive: As I was writing this piece, I saw a news update about Blackberry Curve 9220. It has been launched in India and sells for $215. Seems cheap until you consider that it is lacks 3G, has a poor 2 megapixel camera and not so good display. In contrast, Nokia Lumia 610 has 5 MP high definition camera, with a capacitive high resolution screen and beautiful design, yet it cost just a fraction more at $240. Blunders like this will kill RIM. Given the two choices, most people will pick the Nokia phone. Its a no-brainer except to Blackberry die-hards. RIM has to work on its price structure and fix it because it is not competitive.
6) Adopt Touchscreen But Keep the Hardware Keyboard: I have met countless people who would not use a touchscreen device no matter how sleek because they lack hardware QWERTY keyboards. On the other hand, touchscreens are the present and future. The world is moving aggressively to touchscreen devices. RIM can tap from both worlds by including both in their devices. Already, RIM is doing that. The Blackberry Torch (which includes both touchscreen and keyboard) is perhaps the most popular Blackberry at the moment despite its relatively high cost. A pointer that this step is a must.
7) Be Up-to-date: RIM fell behind Android and Iphones when their hardware and software failed to keep up with new phones from those platforms. RIM must keep its hardware on par with new phones from those platforms to stand any chance of competiting with them. 8) Take Emerging Markets Seriously: If the US market is the holy grail, emerging markets are the next big thing. China is set to overtake the US in smartphone purchases. China and India have almost two billion phones users between them. Coupled with the fact that smartphones have low penetration in countries like Nigeria, emerging markets are like an uncultivated piece of farm land. At the moment, Blackberry phones are selling like candy in Nigeria. Everybody wants a Blackberry. RIM should capitalise on this by introducing cheaper phones. However, RIM must note that emerging markets are susceptible to trends in developed worlds as aptly described by Nobel winning poet Wole Soyinka when he said 'Nigerians are a generation of mimics, a mistake in London is fashion in Lagos'. If RIM wants its newfound popularity in emerging markets maintained, its battered image in the developed world must be repaired.
These steps are not guaranteed to save RIM. I do not claim to be a prophet or an expert but anyone with a little insight would agree that the above steps are an absolute must if RIM wants to survive.