RIM, as we all know from the seemingly limitless negative press about them, is in a deep trough, fighting hard to tread water and stay afloat. The media would have us believe that RIM is dead, sinking fast, or soon to be dissolved and sold off into oblivion. The masses have been swayed to believe this as well, through a combination of blind trust in what they read on the internet, what they see on tv, what they are told by retail sales associates, and, yes, some (maybe a lot, admittedly) personal experience and dissatisfaction with BlackBerry, too. In this article, I’m going to lay out some things about RIM’s current situation, including my own opinion, and then I’m going to make a call for the BlackBerry faithful to do their part and take action to get people thinking positively about BlackBerry again. Feel free to skip the commentary if you’re tired of reading that stuff, but please read the closing, get out there, and spread the word.RIM would have us believe that they are not down for the count, that they can still be a strong player in the mobile market, and I believe them. Thorsten is cleaning house, leaning out operations, looking at any options available to them to keep the company viable and make it grow again. While it may not ever achieve the dominant position it once held in the market it largely created, I still feel that RIM has a very good chance of becoming competitive again.
Let’s look at some of the positive things RIM has going for it.
- Emerging markets are increasingly embracing BlackBerry smartphones. RIM continues to add subscribers in all markets except North America, most notably India and Indonesia.
- Cash reserve – When Thorsten Heins became CEO, RIM had a $3-billion cash reserve. They have dipped into this heavily since then in an effort to right the corporate ship and get back on course. Hopefully it will be enough.
- Government agencies and corporations continue to depend on the security of BlackBerry and BES. While many governments and corporations have begun embracing Bring-Your-Own-Device in an effort to lower costs, those entities who value or require the utmost security, continue to make BlackBerry their preferred mobile platform. Several US government agencies recently rejected iOS and Android AGAIN, due to their inability to secure the devices and manage them remotely. According to sources, the competing platforms (in combination with BES competitors like Good) simply fell too far short of their security requirements.
BB10 is coming. It’s good. Developers are flocking to it, embracing it. It’s far more capable and easier to develop for than the current Java-based BBOS. In a perfect world, it will be good enough to win people back to the BlackBerry platform on its own merits. Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect, and that brings me to RIM’s biggest threat to its survival; the single largest obstacle it MUST overcome, and the one they have yet to really address: consumer perception.
Everywhere I go, whenever someone notices I have a BlackBerry, or a conversation starts about smartphones, I have to deal with the “I heard BlackBerry was dying” comments, the “BlackBerry is old and busted” mind-set. I’ve read countless posts about people being told by sales associates at carrier stores, mall kiosks, and big-box discount stores, “Oh, you don’t want a BlackBerry. BlackBerry’s dying.” Some even go so far as to say “BlackBerry is dead. They aren’t making them anymore. You really want this Android phone over here…” You’re lucky if you can still find BlackBerry smartphones on shelves in some places. The BlackBerry brand is so far out of the consumer mind share at this point that some people I talk to are honestly surprised that BlackBerry still exists.
Now, the average smartphone consumer is only going to believe or understand what they see in the media, and what they are told by their local mobile sales rep, so RIM has a tremendous task ahead of themselves. They need to win back mind share before they can even hope to win back market share. They need to get the word out. They need to shout it from the mountaintops. They need planes flying banners over beaches, blimps over football games; they need to pay a popular UFC fighter to get it tattooed on his back, maybe even buy the naming rights to someone’s child on Ebay. RIM needs to get people interested in BB10 and the BlackBerry brand again.
A recent Wall Street Journal article stated yesterday that RIM “will start delivering nearly complete versions of its new smartphones to carriers next week—the start of a crucial effort to convince consumers and carriers alike that the BlackBerry can compete with the iPhone and Android devices.” This is a good first step, because it’s the carriers who mostly buy devices from RIM, not individuals. The carriers have to be on board with BB10, and with multiple (unconfirmed) reports that both AT&T and Verizon have been advising retailers to push customers away from the iPhone (I’d link you, but there are a lot. Just google it.), this might just be RIM’s best chance to make a good impression with BB10, especially if they tout that famed BlackBerry data compression. RIM MUST get carriers not just willing to, but WANTING to sell (or even mention, or *gasp* display!) their devices, or many consumers will continue to have no idea that BlackBerry still exists.
While it’s certainly not good to over-hype a product before its release, it will be the kiss of death for RIM if they UNDER-hype BB10. They need to carefully balance the marketing of BB10, make sure people know it’s coming, what it can do, and then deliver a stable working product that meets those expectations. Failure to do this will, I fear, put RIM beyond all hope of recovery in the consumer market. They’ve disappointed too many people too many times in recent memory.
*WARNING: FANBOI SOAPBOX ALERT*
Winning over the carriers and retailers is an admirable first step, but it will not be enough. Being all but dismissed from relevance, RIM needs all the help it can get to get noticed again, and so, I say unto you, the BlackBerry Faithful: rise up. Make yourselves known. Evangelize! Go forth and educate the masses. Dress in BlackBerry accoutrements. Station yourselves in retail establishments that carry mobile devices. Wherever you go, be it pub, parlor, or pastry shop, showcase your BlackBerry. Your PlayBook. Your BlackBerry bridged to your PlayBook. If you have a Dev Alpha, pack an extension cord and an external battery, and show it off! Talk to people about what BlackBerry can do. Tell them how it works for you. Tell them what’s in the works for BB10. Tell the sales associates to ask their boss for info on it. Get out there and sell it! Let people know that they aren’t limited to just 2 choices (I know, there’s actually 3, but most of them probably aren’t even aware of Windows Phone, either).
It has been pointed out to me that it is preposterous to provide free marketing for a company that is on the ropes, that “doesn’t care about its customers, doesn’t listen to them”. Maybe RIM hasn’t failed me personally on such a level as to make me give up on them yet. Maybe I have simply not seen enough from a competing platform to draw me away from BlackBerry yet. Maybe I’m a just a fanboi. I’m definitely an idealist, and I believe in supporting products I believe in. BlackBerry is one of those products. I WANT RIM to succeed. I WANT them to come back. I’m also selfish. I WANT to keep using BlackBerry, because it meets my needs and is my platform of choice. I liked what I saw at BlackBerry World this year. I saw a troubled company working hard to change internally, embrace the developer community, and realign itself to new missions. This is not easy to do, and it takes time. There is no overnight magic-bullet solution for the dark and messy situation RIM finds themselves in.
Bear in mind that this post isn’t aimed at BlackBerry haters, disgruntled BlackBerry users, or users of other platforms. It’s not designed to change anyone’s mind. It is aimed squarely at those that still believe in RIM, for whatever reason, and want them to succeed. Do I expect people to quit their jobs or take vacation time to picket retailers and accost mobile customers about their phone choices? No. I don’t expect everyone to suddenly drink the Kool-Aid and “work for RIM for free”. Wouldn’t it be a good thing, though, if more people were more educated about their options?
The time is now. We don’t have to wait for RIM to get this ball rolling. In fact, the sooner it’s rolling, the better. RIM needs people to not just KNOW about BB10; it needs them to WANT BB10. It needs them to be antsy for its release. It needs the buzz. We can help provide that. We are BlackBerry People. We are People Who Do. Be Bold, ye of faith, and spread the good news.