That Research In Motion is facing some serious trouble is not news. For the last couple of years, the world has watched RIM’s market share evaporate and with it, the company’s stock price has plummeted.
Meanwhile, RIM’s perceived value to customers has diminished as Apple and Samsung offer up products that, in one way or another, make the BlackBerry look obsolete. From software to hardware, it’s hard to find any way that RIM is actually in the lead.
Things have recently become worse as RIM’s revenue and profits have fallen. That was followed by news that RIM lost an arbitration hearing with Nokia, another embattled mobile firm, which is asking courts in Canada and the UK to ban the sale of RIM products if it doesn’t reach a new licensing agreement for Nokia-owned patents. With BlackBerry 10 unlikely to launch until late-January, the times couldn’t be worse for RIM.
But luckily for the BlackBerry maker, it doesn’t yet need to sound the alarms and come up with a major strategic shift to turn things around. Although RIM is in trouble, there’s still time to address its issues and improve its chances of success.
These are the things that RIM should do to try to turn around its business before it’s too late.
1. Forget physical keyboards
It’s hard to believe that at the end of 2012, five years after Apple launched its touch screen-equipped iPhone, physical keyboards are the standard on RIM mobile phones. From the Bold to the Curve and even the Torch, RIM has bundled physical keys into its products. That has to change. Today’s consumers are happy with, and expect, virtual keyboards. Failure to provide virtual keyboards on at least some models would be a major mistake on RIM’s part.
2. Get rid of Thorsten Heins
Thorsten Heins has yet to prove—months after his appointment as CEO, no less—that he actually knows what he’s doing at RIM. So far, Heins has only shown a desire to maintain status quo and hope for the best. Status quo won’t work. Heins needs to be replaced by someone who has a clear understanding of the changing mobile space and is willing to dramatically modify its operation.
3. License the software
With BlackBerry 10 right around the corner, now would be the perfect time for RIM to license the software. There’s no way for RIM to beat Apple on its own, and the only way to score some mobile operating system market share is to get some help from other hardware vendors. Believe it or not, BlackBerry OS still has some redeeming qualities and vendors might like to use it. Why not license it and get more BlackBerry-equipped devices on store shelves?
4. Leverage patents
One of RIM’s best opportunities is its patent portfolio. Since its inception, the company has been racking up patents at an astounding rate and now, has many that just about every other company in the mobile space needs. So, why not start licensing some of those patents? According to reports, many companies have considered inking deals with RIM. Perhaps the company should oblige.
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5. Consider selling use of the network
Before Jim Balsillie left RIM, he was reportedly working with carriers to offer them access to the company’s network. The idea was to allow carriers to offload some of their traffic, such as data, on the BlackBerry network and pay the company fees to do so. When Heins took over, that idea was quickly shelved. But was shelving the idea such a smart move? Selling use of the BlackBerry network would have delivered a much-needed revenue stream to the company and could have bolstered its otherwise ailing operation. That idea should be brought back to the table.
6. Pay less attention to the U.S.
The U.S. is, at this moment, a lost market for RIM. Therefore, the company should focus more of its efforts on Europe and emerging markets around the world. It wouldn’t be a good idea for RIM to leave the U.S. market entirely, but it should stop focusing the majority of its business there. RIM’s future is international, where customers are far less likely to be wooed by Apple’s iPhone. RIM mustn’t overlook that opportunity.
7. Put an end to litigation
RIM is currently embroiled in a host of patent-infringement suits around the world. Some of those, RIM has brought against other companies. In others, such as the Nokia case, RIM has been hit with a charge. The time has come to end all litigation. By the look of things, mobile patent litigation isn’t going anywhere and it’s only going to prove more costly. RIM needs cash right now. The last thing it should be doing is spending it on lawsuits.
8. Raise cash for acquisitions
Speaking of cash, RIM should consider every last option for enhancing its bankroll. RIM isn’t generating as much revenue as it once was and its expenses aren’t being managed as well as the company’s shareholders might like. So, RIM needs to start raising cash. How? First off, the company should, as noted, license its patents. RIM should also entertain the possibility of selling off plants and other unnecessary assets. It’s time for RIM to implement a slash-and-burn policy and get rid of anything that isn’t absolutely essential to its future success. At this point, it’s about survival.
9. Remember the importance of apps
Amid all of the talk of software and hardware, RIM tends to forget about the growing importance of mobile apps. From its BlackBerry App World to the programs the company develops on its own, RIM needs to ensure there is an ample number available to satisfy customer needs. RIM must also ensure the apps are intuitive and work well on mobile platform. The importance of RIM’s software efforts cannot be underestimated.
10. Get BlackBerry 10 out unexpectedly early
RIM hasn’t delayed its BlackBerry 10 operating system once; it has done so twice. Right now, the company says that BlackBerry 10 will be available in early 2013. Although it might be difficult, RIM should find a way to get BlackBerry 10 out early—before its January 30 launch date—to silence critics and to prove that it will do whatever it takes to appeal to customers. Timing is everything. And RIM of all companies should know it.