Research In Motion finds itself pushing back against criticism and rivals over its BlackBerry roadmap. But all's not lost for the company.
It hasn't been
the best couple weeks for Research In Motion.
of respectable sales numbers for its newly released PlayBook tablet, the
company faced substantial criticism from tech pundits over the device's lack of
applications and (some claim) unfinished feel. On top of that, new rumors
suggest that Sprint's 4G-enabled version of the PlayBook has been delayed until
further notice-something that could come as a substantial public-relations blow
BlackBerry smartphone sales also forced RIM to dial back its earnings forecast
for the fiscal 2012 first quarter. An aging portfolio of BlackBerry devices,
including the Bold and the Storm, has led to a noticeable softness in device
Then came this
week's BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Fla. Pundits, analysts and
reporters came expecting RIM to unveil a radical roadmap, including several new
BlackBerry OS 7 smartphones to be followed, at a later date, by "superphones"
based on the same QNX operating system currently at work in the PlayBook.
RIM played it
safe, however, and unveiled the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930, thin and
powerful devices running BlackBerry OS 7-not exactly the massive refresh that
many attendees expected. RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis also suggested QNX
smartphones wouldn't actually appear until sometime in 2012.
"There were no
clear indications of when QNX would finally arrive," Jefferies & Co.
analyst Peter Misek wrote in a May 3 research note
, "and we believe
the new moniker signals a longer-than-expected commitment to OS 7 before
transitioning to a QNX-based platform."
That sort of
lag time could make it more difficult for RIM to offer a robust response to
Google Android and Apple's iOS, both of which are evolving at a rapid pace. But
it doesn't have to mean the end of RIM. Here are some steps the company could
take to reverse this negative trend.
Partner Up (But Don't Sell)
One of the
highlights of BlackBerry World was the announcement that Microsoft's Bing will
become the preferred search and maps application for the BlackBerry. Closer to
the end of 2011, the two companies will apparently collaborate to integrate
Bing on the BlackBerry operating-system level, making it a core component of
RIM have already made a deal to port the former's cloud services, notably
Office 365, onto the BlackBerry and the PlayBook tablet, with RIM's BlackBerry
Servers connecting "cloud to cloud" with Microsoft's data centers to host
Office 365 data on user's servers.
also been rumblings that RIM is preparing to open its devices to Android applications.
This would radically increase the number of applications available to the
BlackBerry and the PlayBook, and help blunt criticism that RIM can't compete in
that area with Apple's iOS and other manufacturers embracing Android.
words, partnerships will allow RIM to integrate proven functionality into its
offerings, without needing to spend the resources and time to home-grow its own
equivalents. This doesn't mean, however, that RIM should consider offering itself
up as an acquisition target-the more competition in the smartphone and tablet
ecosystem, the better for consumers.
RIM has two
CEOs and three COOs. At least on the CEO side, that power-sharing structure has
been in place for 20 years, so it's obviously a model with potential to work.
But with RIM flailing for direction, and under assault from multiple fronts, it
may be time for the company to consider a C-suite restructuring that makes it
strategically lean and mean.
Faster, Faster, Faster
RIM is making
a substantial bet on its QNX operating system. As previously mentioned,
however, it's a bit of an open question when smartphones loaded with the OS
will appear on store shelves. To better compete with Apple and Google's
manufacturing partners, and send a clear message that RIM has indeed entered "a
new era," the company should focus on speeding up its roadmap for QNX
deployment. Why not the end of 2011, or the very beginning of 2012, instead of
the (rumored) mid-2012?
Build Tablet Momentum
negative reviews, the PlayBook is apparently attracting consumer and business
interest. RIM already plans to add an array of new features to the tablet,
including native video chat and email, as well as a Facebook application. To
build momentum for the platform, RIM should focus on issuing these sorts of
updates as quickly as possible (while ensuring they remain largely issue-free).
On a similar
note, the faster that RIM can have a 3G or 4G tablet on the market, the better
to compete against rivals like the iPad and the Motorola Xoom, both of which
feature built-in 3G. While the PlayBook's combination of WiFi and BlackBerry
Bridge make it a secure device for businesspeople, the lack of 3G or 4G is a potential
deal-killer for customers who want to carry around a tablet without needing to
tether it to a BlackBerry or other smartphone.