The last couple of years have been tough for Research In Motion (RIM), to say the least. They have lost market share quite rapidly. The rivals - Android, iOS and even Windows Phone have taken the OS game to the next level. The “iPad” beater Playbook bombed rather badly. The root cause of RIM’s troubles in the smartphone market has been the company’s ultra slow response to the threat of Android and iOS. Well, threat they were 2 years back. Now, them rivals are well and truly ahead. Time to wake up and play catch-up!
Without a shadow of a doubt, this year is very critical for the survival of RIM.
Though the road to redemption is a long and hard one, we think here are the five things they can do immediately. After all, they have to start somewhere.
- Acknowledge and (attempt to, at least) understand the rivals’ game: For years, RIM clearly refused to acknowledge the existence of competition. And even remained in different stages of denial when the competition overtook them. What RIM needs to do this year understand what the competition is all about - a sizing up mission, if you will. See what is challenging their still solid domain of enterprise services. Getting email on phones isn't the miracle as it used to be. However, RIM needs to defend its vast enterprise demographic. While the existing tie-ups aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, newer additions might slow down considerably. Simply because Apple, Google and Microsoft are ready to stick their foot in when the door opens. Agreed, it is a little late for all this, but better late than never.
- The Grown-up phone? Teenagers’ phone? Or both? Decide now: The idea is for RIM to identify the user demographic it wants to target. Think RIM, and immediately the Blackberry totting business user comes into mind. However, off late, what equally comes to mind is the teenager - someone who likes boasting about the number of friends he/she has on BBM (Blackberry Messenger). Nothing wrong with targeting different sets of users. But, RIM needs to decide whom all it will focus on, and offer products that have feature sets similar to what the rivals offer. Without blurring the primary focus on enterprise and business. And at prices specifically tailored for the different demographics. At the moment, to do any bit of data on a Blackberry phone, you need a separate data rental plan - Rs 129 (BBM only), Rs 299 (email and BBM) and Rs 399 on prepaid/ Rs 599 on postpaid (email, BBM and full web browsing). Except the Rs 399/ Rs 599 plan, all other plans are handicapped in terms of services on offer. The smartphone doesn’t feel very smart then, eh?
Update: RIM has announced on Friday that they will now not focus on the consumer market, and return to their primary market - the enterprise. Well, easier said than done, considering even the enterprise has solid alternatives in Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’ Windows Phone. We would like to see how that pans out. But going back to the stronger demographic is, at least on paper, the correct thing to do.
- Get Blackberry 10 out as fast as possible: Last year, we saw Blackberry OS6 and OS7 on various devices. Two OS versions within one year would have been a great achievement for anyone, but in reality, they were like an old wine in a slightly newer bottle.And twice of the same thing. More than anything, RIM needs to decide what BB10 will be as the final product, and finalize the initial bunch of smartphones (We are hearing about the Blackberry London). In an environment where rumours on the Internet turn out to be true more often than not, we get precious little about BB 10. Except about delays and no concrete details on the possible launch timelines.
- Close the chapter on this book: Despite having excellent hardware and a neat OS, the lack of integrated email client (something that a Blackberry device looks incomplete without) and the dearth of good apps are the primary reasons for the failure of the PlayBook. For a package that was inferior to the iPad 2 and most high-end Android tablets, RIM priced itself out of the game.
The Playbook OS update does set a lot of things right - integrated email, SNS integration and Android apps, if only a handful of them. However, BBM is still absent on the tablet, and that shows RIM is struggling but unable to find a solution.
What also hurt RIM was the shift of energies from phones to the tablet, for most part of the year. Eventually, didn’t gain much in the tablet market but lost a lot in the smartphone one. This year, they do not need to do anything radical. Just close the chapter on this version of the PlayBook. Don’t innovate unnecessarily, keep it simple and ensure that the apps ecosystem is ready.
- Focus on quality, not quantity: From the trend we witnessed last year, RIM seemed to be betting on numbers in the smartphone market - “the more phones out there, better the chance of people liking at least one of them” logic. Not the best way to go about it. We are hearing that instead of launching BB 10 later this year on two phones, they are instead focusing on just one phone (codenamed London). Smart move, and should be the path they walk this year. And the next.