RIM needs to fix its tech roadmap

By Kye Husbands

I just returned from a trip to California, home to some of the biggest companies in the world – Google, Apple, Facebook, eBay, NetFlix, Zynga to name a few – and it was an enlightening trip to say the least.

While en-route, I observed what appeared to be an abnormally high number of people that were all part of the white head phone wearing, or white AC cord charging tribe. It seemed like everyone was part of the – you guessed it – Apple tribe.

Like any good business person, we want numbers; after all, numbers don’t lie. So while waiting for my connecting flight in the Dallas airport (Major international hub by the way) I decided to move my analysis from anecdotal to empirical. In other words, I was determined to get some metrics to share with my team and prove my observation right or wrong. So I literally used the time (4 hour stop over) to count the type of smartphone devices people were using.

Here are the results from my observations:

Sample size: 500 people (This was a lesson in persistence and patience I guess)

  • Apple 64 per cent  iphones or ipods, (I assume they were all iPhones and I didn’t factor in iPads, however, everyone that I saw using a tablet device was using an iPad. It appeared to be the new standard – iPhone, Laptop possibly not Mac for work and an iPad for airport browsing or reading whatever.
  • Android – 23 per cent
  • BlackBerry – 11 per cent
  • Other – 2 per cent (Didn’t bother noting what type of device they had)

Once I arrived in California, I met with a number of super smart people (many Canadian by the way) and invariably our conversations would turn to mobile.

Reflecting on those conversations, something interesting happened during my “debates” – sorry, conversations. I became a BlackBerry defender, not on principal, per se, but rather on pride. In the heat of these mobile conversations, which tackled topics like, the future of mobile, winners and losers in the mobile race, or the future for RIM more specifically, all the Canadians, albeit living in California now, were defending RIM on passionate grounds. More on this later, but I started to wonder if we – Canadians – are the only ones defending RIM so passionately at this stage.

Back at home, RIM pride manifests itself in ways like this, “cell phones are for making calls, “I don’t need all that fancy stuff”, in contrast to Apple and Android products.

On the launch date of RIM’s long awaited BlackBerry PlayBook the media hit the streets visiting one of Toronto’s largest big-box retailers to interview eager customers. With only two customers in line at one of the premier locations in Toronto, it wasn’t quite what RIM would have expected or any BlackBerry fan wanted to see.

The reporter continued to interview the customer and when asked, why they purchased the BlackBerry PlayBook over one of the other tablets in market, his answer was, “I am Canadian and therefore I must support BlackBerry.” His reply never sat well with me, after all, how can our pride for RIM’s innovation half a decade ago, turn to purchasing a product solely based on Canadian pride.

If that’s the case then it begs another question, “what if all Americans purchase Apple products based on the same logic? – American pride?”. Then we are down 270 million opportunities based on the difference in population alone. So, let me go out on a limb here. This can’t be the sole reason why any company would want customers to purchase its products or services.

Apple has dethroned RIM with one product line. Let me repeat that, one product line. There are no iPhone 1 series (let’s call it the iPhone mini) or iPhone 3,5 or 7 series like BMW products, targeting customers at different price points. What if Apple launched an iPhone mini? If RIM continues to lose market share in the US and Apple launches products at varying price points, while Android with its multiple vendors, continue to pump out devices faster than they can come up with names for them, what happens to our dear RIM.

According to my colleagues in the US RIM will become the next Atari.

After realizing that my Canadian pride was preventing me from thinking about RIM’s situation critically I decided to focus these conversations on, what should RIM do. One unanimous comment that I heard from several of my US colleagues was that RIM needed new leadership. We all know what happens when a team goes on a losing streak. You fire the coach, not the players and this is one concession I conceded to my US colleagues. Maybe RIM is at that point where they need new blood.

Maybe Jim or Mike should step aside and let someone else take over the reins and pump some new energy into the company. But before we debate that single point to death, let’s explore some of the things that RIM needs to do as quickly as humanly possible, to turn around RIM’s fortunes in the very near future.

  1. Fix the Technology roadmap and fix it quickly. RIM should NOT be releasing devices like the BlackBerry TouchBold (BB 9900) at this stage. RIM needs to innovate not just evolve. By today’s standards, albeit with their patented keyboard and all) this phone doesn’t give RIM any mindshare or any traction in the marketplace. RIM needs to get phones out on the new QNX platform NOW and get back in the mobile conversation. We measure a factor we refer to as desirability on the mycellmyterms network and here is what we know definitively. Quarter over quarter for 2011, BlackBerry device requests are down a staggering 35%. In other words, 35 per cent less Canadians chose a BlackBerry device as their preferred or ideal device. If you are wondering during that time how Apple did, they also fell by 13.6 per cent but this was expected, due to the fact that people held off creating proposals in the hopes of hearing the new iPhone 5 would have been announced at WWDC – Apple’s Developer Conference – help in early June.
  2. Stop relying on the Carriers and establish it’s own distribution channel: The BB Playbook is the first product where RIM has gone direct to customers by selling the tablet on its website. The way to demand attention from the carriers is to ensure that customers are demanding RIM products. When Bell and Telus partnered to build a new national HSPA network in late 2008, electing not to wait for 4G LTE, it was a strategic move to get cooler phones on their network led by none other than the iPhone. The sheer demand for the iPhone and the emergence of Android phones was enough to abandon the somewhat questionable timeline for 4G LTE and cut in on Rogers’ action, which was the only carrier with the iPhone at that time. So RIM needs to establish its very own distribution channel and I’m not talking about building retail stores. They’ve done an amazing job of getting a lot of partners on board to sell the BB PlayBook and perhaps they can leverage that same network going forward to sell BlackBerry devices, independently of the carriers, however, the real opportunity is to implement a more innovative online strategy or be part of one, in order to engage clients and move products online.
  3. New chefs in the kitchen? The fact that RIM’s late Chief Marketing Officer quit weeks before the launch of the BlackBerry Playbook is an ominous sign. This coupled with the beating the stock waning consumer confidence makes the future look a little rough to say the least.

So, are my US colleagues right? Does RIM need some new blood at the top of the organization or, should Jim and Mike be given more time turn things around? Is it really a two horse race at this stage, as my US colleagues tell me it is? I am super interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic. One more thing, as a Canadian, would you purchase a BlackBerry product over another solely because it’s from RIM?


Kye Husbands is co-founder of myCELLmyTERMS, a Toronto-based company that helps cell phone users negotiate wireless plans with independent dealers.

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Latest Blogs

ITB in your inbox

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.