It’s no secret that RIM (Research in Motion) has been hurting recently. While the mobile industry has undergone tremendous growth over the past three years, the house that Blackberry built has been crumbling. RIM has been an easy target for blogger/journalists, and we mostly assumed their problems were due to poor corporate planning that turned a one-time beacon of the mobile industry into a reactive mess. A deeper look reveals problems reportedly ranging from roadmaps that don’t keep pace with industry standards, to bullying carriers into agreeing to stock BlackBerrys with buggy software and unfinished operating systems. What exactly is going on at RIM? And is it too late to fix it?
Last Thursday’s 1st quarter results call shed some interesting light on what exactly has been going on behind closed doors at RIM HQ. During an open Q&A period, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis was asked point blank what RIM had in the pipeline, and if they were going to be able to compete in the modern (read: dual-core) mobile world. The following speaks volumes to the problems facing the Waterloo based company:
“We were already well down a development path to the next-generation BlackBerry handsets when we realized that in the US the features and performance arms race demanded that we upgrade the chipset and port BlackBerry to a higher-performance platform. This was an engineering change that affected hardware and software timelines and pushed out entry into carrier certification labs. “
The translation from corporate jargon to real world English is that RIM’s upcoming high-end BlackBerry (presumably the Bold 9900, aka Bold Touch) was not intended to get the 1.2 Ghz Snapdragon chip found in current prototypes. According to Crackberry, RIM was planning on using a Marvel 800MHz chip in their flagship phone. I’ve reviewed enough mobile devices to know specs alone do not make for a great experience. Certainty the software has to be optimized for the hardware. But can you imagine the outcry if RIM released a top-tier phone in today’s market with an 800 MHz processor? I’d hate to see the forums, YouTube comments, and site discussions comparing an 800 MHz Bold Touch to Android devices running dual- and quad-cores at up to 1.5 GHz each. Regardless of the user experience, a BlackBerry with such poor specs would be doomed from a consumer perspective. Enterprise users would upgrade to the newest BlackBerry, sure, but beyond RIM’s bread and butter audience, slow clock speed would make for a tough sell. Not to mention a flagship phone with an 800 MHz chip at its core would be even tougher for the Blackberry faithful to defend to their iPhone and Android toting friends.
While I give RIM credit for recognizing how using an 800 MHz processor in their next-gen flagship device would create a big PR problem, it doesn’t change their recent history of being reactive, and not proactive, in the industry. Although, if you believe BGR, RIM is definitely being proactive, but not in the way you’d hope. According to the Boy Genius himself,
“We have been informed by a very reliable source at a major carrier that RIM has been putting an enormous amount of pressure on carriers to approve the upcoming BlackBerry smartphones like the BlackBerry Bold 9900 — phones that have to hold RIM over until its next-generation platform launch in 2012 — and that certain carriers will be approving the devices, “no matter what — with bugs and problems.” Additionally, RIM is putting huge pressure on its internal engineers to deliver Technical Acceptance bundles even when there are serious problems with the OS. In short, RIM is pushing unfinished OS builds from its engineers to the carriers, and demanding that the carriers approve them..”
Pushing through buggy software builds, strong arming carriers to approve problematic devices, and altering products midway through development is not a recipe for success in the mobile world. If RIM is disregarding the end user experience, the company is draining water from a sinking ship, and just delaying the inevitable.
For RIM to really fix the hole in their boat, they have to use their QNX built PlayBook operating system as the patch. While currently missing key functionality (e-mail!) the OS is incredibly solid, modern, elegant, and secure. If RIM can successfully add the missing functionality to QNX, port it to the phone form factor, and add some modern hardware to the mix, they might just have some life left in them yet. If the rumor mill is to be believed, RIM has one more legacy software OS in store (presumably OS 7.5) before QNX powered devices are ready. If RIM is smart, they’ll ditch the 7.5 plans, and put everything they have behind getting QNX (OS 8?) into the hands of the consumer.
What do you, the smartphone loving audience think? Does RIM have any wind left in their sails or are they sunk?