It’s been a tough couple of weeks for RIM, the company behind the BlackBerry brand. After their fledgling BlackBerry PlayBook tablet was met with a lukewarm reception in the States, and an even cooler response in stores (only 500,000 units shipped and it’s still unclear how many were actually bought up by consumers), they saw the tablet dropped by network carrier O2 just prior to the PlayBook’s UK release and overnight reported a massive drop in profits from $934 million to $695 million, quarter to quarter.
Now there are rumours of massive lay-offs at RIM in an attempt to balance the books.
So where is it all going wrong for one of the initial front-runners in the smartphone race? If the company are to continue to be competitive with the continually-growing Apple iOS and Android user-bases, they’re going to have to make some big changes and fast, or find themselves with a one-way ticket down the slippery slope Nokia currently find themselves on. Here’s a handful of points that could turn the odds in RIM’s favour.
Roll out the QNX OS to handsets as well as the PlayBook, and do it fast
The PlayBook may not be setting the States on fire (and has yet to be given the chance to fully spread its wings in the UK) but one thing that most reviewers agreed upon was that the QNX OS was rather good. Slick, fast and customisable, it felt like a genuine evolution of the BlackBerry OS, which has floundered with poor, incremental updates for too long now. Getting QNX, or a variant of it, onto new BlackBerry smartphones could inject some excitement back into product launches. Which leads to our next point…
Speed up phone releases!
Now we’re not saying that RIM need to turn the BlackBerry brand into a sub-standard, phone-churning production line, but disregarding the unveiling of a marginally-improved Torch back in May, RIM hasn’t pushed out a major high-end phone since the mediocre original Torch in August 2010. You could argue that Apple take a year or more for iPhone updates, but they also represent the ONLY phones that Apple put out, with the Apple PR machine building a circus-like frenzy around their launch. RIM put out lots of mid-range handsets that couldn’t work up even a flea circus. If RIM held back a little on the R&D and production costs of mid-range phones and put the savings towards making a faster turn-over of attractive smartphones, they may again start courting the cool consumer crowds their adverts are crying out to snare, as well as enterprise users. With the rate at which multiple manufacturers push out top-notch Android phones, it’s a problem RIM must address.
Sort out the management at the top level
RIM have a very peculiar set up at the board level, with Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille both acting as co-CEOs. They say that two heads are better than one, but in this case we’re not so sure. Certainly, the company seems to be lacking in direction creatively, going from their originally ground-breaking designs to more or less chasing Apple and Google in the tablet and smartphone markets. Someone needs to step up to the plate and lay down a visionary roadmap, a (for want of sounding like a fanboy, I’ll take this moment to point out I’m an Android user) Steve Jobs-style figure if you like. Of the two, Lazaridis seems the most flustered at the moment, his behaviour becoming increasingly erratic, as demonstrated by his recent walk-out during a reasonably-friendly BBC interview.