RIM’s in the gutter, we all know that. I wanted to write an editorial on its poor fiscal first quarter earnings report yesterday, but there wasn’t much more to say that hasn’t already been said. The company needed to launch BlackBerry 10 this year — not by the end of the year, but way back before Windows Phone 8, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and iOS 6 were detailed. Instead, the company’s completely revamped BlackBerry 10 operating system won’t launch until the first quarter of next year. I’m not even sure it will ever see the light of day. The company’s name is so sour to consumer’s at this point that there’s really not a point — no matter how great it is.
This morning, Reuters published a report that said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reached out to RIM for a potential partnership in which the Waterloo, Canada-based BlackBerry maker would use Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. The approach is similar to Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia and would also help Microsoft expand into emerging markets. This isn’t about Microsoft, though. It’s about RIM. Is a partnership with Microsoft, and a potential Windows Phone 8 smartphone, be enough to save the company? I’m not a finance guy, but looking at this from a consumer angle, I think it could.
Microsoft has the cash to put a ton of money behind the marketing of a Windows Phone 8-powered BlackBerry. More importantly, Windows Phone 8 will be ready to launch this fall; long before RIM’s BlackBerry 10 operating system sees the light of day. That could get new BlackBerry smartphones, with a much better operating system than BlackBerry 7, on the market in time for the holiday season. It could build consumer excitement around the brand in a whole new way.
RIM said it’s not ditching consumers entirely, but that it’s also refocusing on its strengths in the enterprise market. Microsoft also has experience there. I still remember when my friends carried either a Windows Mobile or BlackBerry device for work. As recently as 2008, the global accounting firm Deloitte was still issuing Windows Mobile devices to its employees. Even better, Windows Phone 8 will cater to IT departments with enhanced security and remote management features — two features that are key to getting an enterprise customer on board. Plus, Windows Phone 8 is, at its core, a consumer device. That means RIM could capitalize on the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement, instead of being pushed out of the space entirely as consumers gravitate to iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Better yet, carriers have already warmed up to Windows Phone 8 and are excited for its launch. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and U.S. Cellular have all announced that they will carry new phones powered by the OS. Sure, all of these carriers currently offer BlackBerry smartphones and would probably offer BlackBerry 10 devices, but RIM should get in on Windows Phone 8 while it’s building out its BlackBerry 10 platform. Or ditch BB10 altogether.
Analysts are predicting roaring success for Microsoft’s mobile platform, too. IDC recently said that Windows Phone will surpass iOS’s market share by 2016, with a 19.2 percent share of the market. RIM could, and should, ride on this magic carpet. The same report suggested that RIM’s BlackBerry OS market share, otherwise, would remain stagnant around 5.9%. That’s down from 6% today and takes into consideration BlackBerry 10.
Let’s not forget why everyone loves RIM in the first place: it offers the best keyboards and a killer messaging application we all know and love called BBM. I’d buy a Windows Phone 8 device with BBM and a first-class keyboard. Heck, I’d probably line up for a Bold 9900 if it had Windows Phone 8 installed on it.
Still, RIM may not take that route. Forbes pointed to comments from RIM’s CEO yesterday that suggested the company won’t consider a partnership with another phone maker. “We came to the decision that joining the family of the Android players, for example, would not fit RIM’s strategy and its customers,” RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said on the company’s earnings call yesterday. “We are not trying to be one of many. We’re trying to be different. We’re trying to be the best solution for our customers that buy a BlackBerry, know why they want a BlackBerry.
If RIM decides not to partner with Microsoft, then it deserves to continue its downward spiral into nothingness. Microsoft may have its hand tightly gripped on RIM’s at this point, and the BlackBerry maker needs to decide to let go and fall into the depths below, or climb back up the mountain.