RIM – Mr. Faded Glory

I recently took a position with AT&T and joined a large and old organization.  But one which still drives forward and does some exciting things.  Part of my on boarding process was getting a business mobile phone.  My phone of choice: A RIM Blackberry Torch.  I have enjoyed my few months here but this was disappointing.  No iPhone, No Android..heck even no Windows Phone .  It makes one wonder what went so wrong?  They had everything going in their direction.  For business users it was the phone of choice.  the one everyone had to have.  When I visited with Senators and Congressmen they all seemed attached to their Blackberry’s.  During the 2008 Presidential election RIM received free press thank’s to future President Obama’s apparent addiction to his “crackberry”.  But change happens very quickly and when it does you have to react quickly.  RIM just seemed to over perceive its strength along with loyalty of its user base.  Loyalty is a fickle thing when it comes to consumer items.

When I was at Microsoft and we were working on releasing the first Windows Mobile phone it was all about taking down RIM.  No other competitor mattered.  We had to kill RIM.  I never liked that strategy as I thought Nokia was a bigger threat and a bigger mountain to climb.  I also thought Microsoft needed a consumer play.  But what do I know.  That is why they don’t pay me the big bucks.  RIM had some cool things.  The device had the wheel.  A slick and quick way to navigate through applications.  It’s integration with Microsoft Exchange was fantastic.  When we were launching with AT&T Wireless the Windows Mobile it was all the rage to talk how we would catch and crush RIM.   Listening to AT&T Wireless execs they were getting tired of device manufacturers coming in and trying to pitch the latest Blackberry killer.  Though through the coming years the Windows Mobile Phone would gain traction, Blackberry was still far and away the king.  During this time their profile and their stock continued to increase.  This was a time that was as good as it gets for RIM.

Then on June 29th 2007 Apple released the first iPhone.  It blew the socks off of every mobile phone on the market.  It also took the category of “smartphone”, which previously had been thought of only as a phone for business professionals and took it mainstream.  What was interesting to witness, and RIM was not alone, was how slow the competition was to react to this significant market change.  During the next several years it was remarkable to watch RIM, not for what they were doing, but what they were not doing.   In 2010 RIM released the Blackberry Torch.  I have one.  As my son said, “If you could go back in time 5 years this phone would be cool”. Pretty accurate.  The screen is small, the touch screen is poor, I don’t use a Qwerty keyboard.  By today’s standard it is just a bad device.  Looking at from a far, it seems to me as if RIM decided it could satisfy it’s users with a device that was not much different from what they had.  In the meantime Google had released Android to the market. In addition these perceived consumer products were penetrating the enterprise rapidly

It seems like since 2007 RIM has just been kind of out there in the marketplace going through the motion.  Either unable to grasp the shift in the market or simply too stunned to know what to do.  In an environment with fierce competition rather than roar like a Lion, RIM seems to meow like a pussy cat.  We can say others like Microsoft and Nokia are faltering, but they at least have seen the size mic shift and are taking chances to try to move the meter.  To at least try to tell the market we are still here.  In the meantime we watch as RIM’s market share drops rapidly to the sea floor. It even looks like Microsoft may overtake RIM in 2013.

You have to innovate in the market to stay on top.  Apple has done that better than anyone of late.  RIM should have seen this in 2007.  Apple had raised the bar and the market was undergoing a big shift in what was acceptable versus what was not acceptable.  With the exception of Google everyone in the industry was caught flat-footed: Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, and RIM.  Two things made matters even worse. One was the belief that what they had could compete.  The problem was the underlying architecture they all had been completely inferior to what they had in place and no matter how hard they tried, you cannot turn a Buick into a Ferrari  The second was there was nothing in the pipeline that could replace their existing mobile operating systems, they literally all had to start from scratch.  This meant they were extremely late in joining.  Sadly none as of this writing have released anything to compete against the iPhone (yes my Microsoft friend, though Mobile 7 and 7,5 have been released they are dead until Windows 8 comes pout which is fundamentally different at the OS level).  That is 5 years that have gone by.  Whatever RIM comes up with it needs to come up something that leap-frogs what is in the market.  Not an easy task and not something that happens very often.

RIM is  a faded star.  One that once shone brightly.  But in the end it does not have the glimmer in its eyes that it used to have.  RIM got caught in its own success and failed to realize the massive shift in the industry that took place when the iPhone launched.  It failed to realize the role developers now played in the mobile market place.  By the time they reacted the market was so large and moving ahead so fast a company can reach a point where it will never catch up.  With some projecting the iPhone 5 can sell 250 million units in its life cycle, the challenge to competitors will be immense.  Google, Samsung, and Microsoft have the girth and resources to play the game for the long run.  RIM is not in that category.  RIM is past its expiration date.  A shining start that has seen its bright lights dim and turned it into Mr. Faded Glory.  RIP RIM.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 22, 2012

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