A notoriously insular firm by tradition, RIM has been making great strides to better understand and satisfy users. It has at long last embraced the application-developer community. And RIM is forging stronger ties with the all-important information technology (IT) managers who oversee employee populations of mobility-device users. An underdog mentality now prevails at RIM’s Waterloo skunkworks, or labs. And that is what RIM most needs to finally shake it from the complacency by which it alienated itself into an also-ran.
Here are some of the factors working in RIM’s favour:
• Mobility users don’t want to be trapped in an Apple-Android world. Those two operating systems already command about 90 per cent of the global smartphone market between them. RIM’s competitors have their distinct cultures, no less than RIM. Users benefit from having as many innovators with varying worldviews as possible. It’s in no mobility user’s interest to see RIM disappear.
• RIM ruled the roost for practically the first decade of smartphones. You can’t buy that kind of goodwill. RIM, for all its woes, still has a huge following of more than 80 million users worldwide. Most of them are eager for a new RIM smartphone that is a game-changer the way the first iPhone was in 2007.
• The stock market is betting on a RIM revival. RIM shares have been outperforming those of Apple Inc., gaining 116 per cent in value in the past three months, as Apple stock has lost one-quarter of its value. Apple, which has suffered three straight quarters of underwhelming financial results, is not unbeatable, and the intimidation factor it enjoys in the market is unwarranted.
• We are still in the early innings of the smartphone game. There are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have yet to step up from a cellphone to a smartphone. A BB10 that has already won rave reviews from techies for its improved functionality ahead of Wednesday’s launch won’t carry the baggage of high-profile RIM failures like the Playbook with this huge population of newcomers to advanced mobility devices.
• Much of the unflattering RIM publicity derives from the BB10’s repeated delays. But RIM turnaround CEO Thorsten Heins may have calculated correctly in absorbing the market-share losses during that long period of delays rather than rush out a BB10 not ready for prime time. Recall that the old RIM pushed far too many products out the door too quickly – the Pearl, the Storm, the Bold, the Torch. This confused RIM loyalists with supposedly new devices that were scarcely distinguishable from each other.
• The most compelling reason for the BB10 delay is RIM’s new respect for app developers. RIM has been providing them with BB10 prototypes since last spring. The first iPhone benefited enormously from coming out of the gate with an unprecedented number of apps. These now number about 775,000 for both the App Store and Google Play’s marketplace for Android devices – far more offerings than BlackBerry World. Never mind that a great many of these apps are, to put it charitably, useless. In the past year, RIM has made so nice with app developers that it received 15,000 new app submissions in just 37.5 hours earlier this month at its latest app event, an industry record. More important, RIM’s new “Portathons” encourage app writers to make their existing apps, designed for RIM rivals, compatible with — or portable to — the BB10. Having won the attention of the top app and game developers, RIM must forcefully woo holdouts like Skype, Netflix and Instagram.
• The smartphone contest is evolving away from a focus on devices, which are fast becoming a low-profit commodity. The shift is to lucrative services and software. That plays to RIM’s traditional strength as provider of the market’s most secure devices. RIM’s first-in-class security, long a high card with corporate and government IT managers, will increasingly appeal to mass-market consumers as worries about identity theft increase. To reinforce that strength, the previously insular RIM has updated its BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) so that IT managers can monitor devices with Apple’s iOS and the Android operating systems as well as RIM devices. That should stem the RIM defections of IT managers inclined to drop BES — and RIM — because BES couldn’t manage the non-RIM devices that employees were choosing over BlackBerrys.
All to say that Wednesday’s unveiling may or may not reveal a device that will “save” RIM. What matters is that a more competitive RIM is emerging, the BB10 aside. In survival mode, RIM is discarding its haughtiness of old to win and hold customers with its most user-friendly devices ever.