RIM Still Struggling to Compete with iPhone, Android

RIM had a solid showing at BlackBerry World last week, but without QNX-based smartphones, the beleaguered company failed to reassure analysts that it is on the right track.

Research In Motion announced a number of new things at its 10th BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Fla., last week, but it failed to convince financial and technology experts in areas that matter most.

That would be how to stop being the RIM of old and show the world how it will compete with Apple's iPhone and Google Android devices that consumers and workers alike have snapped up to the tune of tens of millions of units.

RIM officials spent a lot of time touting the new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, launching native Facebook and video chat applications for the 7-inch slate; introduced BlackBerry Balance to separate personal and professional content; and acquired Ubitexx to handle Apple iOS and Android adoption in the enterprise.

RIM also partnered with Microsoft, letting Bing become the default search and maps provider in a nonexclusive deal for the foreseeable future. However, RIM is a phone maker first, and it is in this area where it was found wanting, according to analysts.

RIM introduced the new BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 smartphone running BlackBerry 7 OS on the company's thinnest smartphone ever. However, smartphones on its PlayBook's QNX operating system were missing in action, and it is unlikely we will see any before the next BlackBerry World in 2012.

"It is hard to overstate how insanely great this BlackBerry Bold is for corporate email and BlackBerry Messenger addicts. With high-end specs that translate to genuine performance gains and a thin and attractive case, it should keep some BlackBerry loyalists loyal," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart told eWEEK.

"Unfortunately, it is equally hard to overstate how little of that matters to people who want a big-screen browsing experience, a user interface designed specifically for touch, or to run lots of apps."

Greengart noted that this part of RIM's base is defecting to the iPhone and Android phones, adding that winning those users back will take more than the Bold's current specs. This user base will require a QNX-based super smartphone.

Unfortunately, history also shows that when a brand begins to lose its customers, it rarely ventures back. Where RIM and Nokia long ruled the roost in smartphone sales, the iPhone and Android have assumed command of the market.

Where BlackBerry was the leading U.S. smartphone platform just six months ago, comScore reported May 6 that Android now has 34.7 percent U.S. market share, while the iPhone has 25.5 percent of the market. At 27 percent, RIM is in danger of falling into third place behind the iPhone.

Even the Microsoft deal, while it appears to be a clever move to lend some cool credibility to an aging BlackBerry platform, reeks of uncertain hopefulness.

Bing has been gaining market share incrementally, but it still just has 13 percent of the market, suggesting that the majority of users in the United States and abroad prefer Google. The point will be moot if RIM can't make people think twice about pulling out their wallets for iPhones or Droids.

"The inability to execute in high-end phones over many quarters combined with a detachment from details and meandering, heavily scripted conference calls are symptoms of the malaise," wrote Charter Equity Research analyst Edward Snyder.

"While it is possible for the company to break from its past and field smartphones that can prevail against Apple, Samsung, HTC and Motorola, we don't expect that to occur until after a change in leadership."

These issues have some analysts looking for a management change, starting with co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, each of whom have been lampooned for their outrageous claims and outbursts and generally odd positioning in the face of the competition and pressure.