I had a good lunch today with a former colleague today and our discussion at one point turned to the world of mobile devices. One company that came up was RIM and the Blackberry…mind you we both worked with RIM via our former employer so we had been exposed to the Canadian company at a deeper level than simply as users of their hand held devices.
We both lamented at how far RIM has fallen in the world of smart phones. Remember when the Blackberry was the “coolest” device one could own? It was the one device that we could get our emails on, make calls, had a fully qwerty keyboard and eventually do some web browsing. Wow. It was great! Then other players came on the market to compete such as Palm’s Treo. All this changed beginning of 2007, with the announcement of the Apply iPhone. Of course some scoffed at the new kid on the block, you could not remote scrub the phones if lost, you did have the speed of a Blackberry server to deliver your email and sync you calendar and overall the new iPhone was a cute toy but would not get into corporate America. Throw into the mix the fact that Steve Jobs always seemed to be allergic to the corporate business and RIM thought their world was safe. Ooops.
Today, we also have the Android from Google that has come out with a vast amount of devices running the operating system coupled with the newly released iPhone 4 and are breaking down the barrier between consumer and professional smartphones.
This past weekend, RIM released their new hand held, the new Blackberry that would once again seize what is rightfully RIM’s a leadership role in the smartphone space. Unfortunately the sales from the first weekend were nothing short of a disappointment – 150,000 units sold. Compare this with iPhone 4 that sold 1.7m units during its first weekend. I realize we can argue that we are comparing apples and oranges, but the perception is that RIM has completely lost its fast ball. Some would even argue that RIM is on the verge of…saying bye bye.
Now the reality is that RIM still holds a solid market share 43% vs Apples 25% an enviable position, except when you realize that Apple grew that share from nothing to where it is today in 3 years. Couple this with the rapid growth of Android from Google and you have a situation where RIM is fighting a defensive battle against 2 formidable opponents. However there is a silver lining in all this…something Jay brought up today at lunch. The other news about RIM has surrounded their problems with the government in Saudi Arabia and the fact their encryption is too strong to be snooped on. Now RIM has had to allow governments to have some visibility into the communication. If the governments of Saudi Arabia, China, Russia to name a few cannot break your encryption what does that say about your security? It is pretty darn solid.
Rather than competing with Apple and Google on the “coolness” factor – go back to your core business – the business world! I realize that the iPhone is creeping into that space, but rather than trying to compete on the battlefields dominated by Apply and Google position your devices as rock solid, robust, safe and can be trusted to protect your corporate information. Hey if the Saudi government cannot hack it, how could your competitors? I am sure that most IT departments and companies would much rather know their corporate smart-phones have this level of security.
It might not be sexy, it might not have a coolness to it but companies are not all Nike, Adidas, Disney, Apple, Google, Facebook…but there are many businesses that grind away without the “coolness” glow and do very well at it. It might be time for RIM to recognize this and focus on this strategy, otherwise, as George Colony wrote, it might be goodbye RIM.