As the smartphone war heats up with Android and iOS duking it out for first place, RIM has slowly fallen out of favor with industry analysts and the general populace. While RIM has certainly been in the news lately because of the
Thehas shown that Android has finally overtaken RIM's OS in overall market share. Though RIM still holds on tightly to second place, its score is dropping while iOS' is rising (and let us not forget that ComScore only counts smartphones, not the iPod Touch or the iPad). For a company that was once the reigning king in the smartphone world, this must be humbling news.
We asked RIM to provide us with comments about its future plans, but the company has said it generally doesn't do forward-looking interviews about products.
How did we get here?
Like it or not, the iPhone changed everything. With its debut, smartphones were no longer just devices designed primarily for corporate workers and early adopters (who had been RIM's bedrock). Yes, there were consumer-oriented smartphones like the
About a year later, Google took its own early steps into the smartphone world with the first Android smartphone, the
RIM must have known it had to do something new to remain relevant. It launched the
Unfortunately, it turned out to be less than successful, and it was plagued by reports of sluggishness and software bugs. RIM tried again the following year with the
Too little, too late
That seemed to be the overall problem with RIM's attempts these past few years: it was always too little, too late. The company kept doing what it does best with its iconic candy bar phones, releasing the Curve and the Bold with updated specs like GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G, and Bluetooth. These phones have physical keyboards, which has always been RIM's main strength, and are great messaging and e-mail tools. But as mobile entertainment becomes more of a priority, touch screens just get more attention.
RIM tried again in 2010 with the
Android has the advantage of integration with Google apps and services, while iOS boasts a clean user interface and a wealth of quality third-party applications. Furthermore, the pace of Android is astounding; there seems to be a new Android phone every few weeks. Android is also working on making its platform more secure and corporate-friendly with phones like the Motorola Droid Pro, going after customers where it hurts RIM most. And while BlackBerry might have a loyal developer community, most of the buzz these days is about the Apple App Store and the Android Market, where developers stand to get more recognition.
However, RIM threw a surprise at us in late 2010 when it . Unlike the other iPad competitors, the PlayBook looked completely different. The 7-inch size is compellingly portable, and the QNX platform made overwhelmingly positive first impressions with its multitasking prowess and fast processing speeds. It was also the first tablet we'd seen that targeted the business customer with a secure, enterprise-oriented tablet. Even if RIM appears to have lagged behind in the smartphone space, it seems to be taking bold steps in the tablet arena.
But it seems that RIM might have put almost too much effort into the PlayBook, perhaps forgetting about its smartphones in the process. At CES, Mobile World Congress, and at CTIA this year, all RIM had to offer was the PlayBook. We certainly applaud its efforts in the tablet space, but to not offer any smartphone news at all for almost six months is a little worrying and unlike RIM.
And not all is looking rosy on the PlayBook front, either.under an emulation layer. This might sound like good news to consumers because it creates the opportunity for more apps, but it does reveal a certain lack of confidence in RIM's own developer community. If you're a developer, you have less incentive now to develop a native PlayBook app; why not just create an Android one and port it over later? Furthermore, the PlayBook had the advantage of being a unique device in a sea of Android tablets. Why try to be like everything else?
Despite our fears, it's too early to start hammering nails into RIM's coffin. RIM still has an extremely loyal fan base, and its strong commitment to security is why many businesses still prefer BlackBerrys to any other handset. Even though we haven't heard anything about new phones, we have noticed leaks and rumors about new touch-screen BlackBerrys like the and the . It's not clear if these phones will be much better than the Torch and the two Storms, but we can always hope. It's not too late for RIM to get back on the mend.
A few suggestions
Here are a few ideas I think could be useful for RIM:
Overhaul. RIM needs to seriously re-evaluate the BlackBerry user interface. OS 6 was a step in the right direction, but it still has a relatively bland UI that reeks of its stale predecessor. Take a look at Windows Mobile; Windows Phone 7 is literally nothing like Windows Mobile 6.5. It's fresh, it's new, it's bold, and we rather like it. Of course, we've yet to see Windows Phone 7 take off, but it's good to see Microsoft try. We learned late last year that RIM is planning to port its QNX platform to dual-core smartphones some time in 2012, which is fantastic news, but might be a little too late yet again.
Solve your identity crisis. Either you're a consumer company, or you're not. RIM has long had its stronghold in the corporate world, but it has made some efforts on the consumer side. This is good, but we would like to see much more of a commitment. Is the PlayBook a consumer device? If so, it would be nice if you could get regular email through a native app -- right now it only supports corporate BES email when tethered to a BlackBerry. I would like to see a true consumer smartphone from RIM, something with a strong multimedia offering and a truly fun interface.
Close it off or open it up. If you're going to open up the PlayBook to Android, then why not go whole-hog and open up the BlackBerry to Android, too. You'll get more apps, and you might woo some Android fans over to your side. At least that way there would be some kind of unity with the PlayBook and the BlackBerry phones. Still, I don't think that's necessarily a good idea. It might be better to stick with your own native apps that are specifically designed for your devices. Emulation software seems dodgy to me.
Get a few partners. Find a big-name developer you can partner with to develop apps and services that are unique to the BlackBerry. Maybe get gaming companies like EA involved. Have direct access to valuable services like Amazon.com's Cloud Player. Show off exactly what your phones and tablet can do that the other guys can't.
Amp up the hardware. You noticed how much attention the PlayBook got? That's exactly how RIM's phones should be. Fast, beautiful, sleek, and impressive.
What do you think, readers? How would you improve RIM? What would RIM need to do to knock down Android and iOS? Or do you think RIM needs to do anything at all? Let us know in the comments.