Much has been written about Research in Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry phone that has gone from “must-have” in the enterprise—the “CrackBerry”—to the recycle bin, as users move to iPhones and Android smartphones that have much more functionality.
In an attempt to stem the tide of slipping sales and falling stock price, the company last month announced its two-headed CEO—Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie—were stepping down and that COO Thorsten Heins was moving into the post. Lazaridis will lead a newly formed “innovation committee” with the company.
In 2010, about 40% of smartphone users had BlackBerry devices. By summer 2011, its market share fell to less than 20%. Sure, iPhones and Androids have bigger screens, easier UIs and (with the iPhone at least) more applications to choose from. But more than that… users perceived iPhones and Androids as cool. BlackBerry was seen as corporate, with its emphasis on security, despite its appeal to youngsters (like my college freshman daughter) who, it appears, live to “BBM.” (Side note: She’s constantly losing her trackball, the navigation tool for getting around the BlackBerry.)
Under Lazaridis and Balsillie, the BlackBerry was unable to change its image as a work phone that people could also use to get their e-mail. Remember how cool you were when you had your first BlackBerry and would respond to a work e-mail during a dinner out—the envy of all who saw you? Now, you pull out a BlackBerry and are universally met with, “Wow, you’re still using a BlackBerry?”
First, RIM tried to fight back with a new QNX-based operating system, which has yet to be rolled out, and now with a new CEO, who hasn’t yet had time to deal with the crisis.
Colleagues of mine have been quick to declare that RIM has lost, that BlackBerry is dead, and the company would do us all a favor if it just went away. Indeed, with a stock price that fell from more than US$70 a share to just over $12 in a year—and has since rallied back to around $16 as of this writing in late January—it would appear investors are voting BlackBerry off the smartphone island.
In an interview with the Washington Post last October, RIM vice president Patrick Spence said users never really understood the BlackBerry’s full potential because companies could turn off access to applications and the Web to keep employees focused on the job.
So RIM faces the monumental task of regaining “hip.” That will be harder than reimagining the hardware and adding more capabilities, just to get back to even with the rest of the field.
As Mike Myers’ character Austin Powers learned in “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” once you’ve lost your mojo, baby, life is not a groovy thing!
David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.