RIM = Really Irrelevant Manufacturer – some thoughts on the decline of RIM

by: SamApril 8, 2012
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Around 1999, RIM pretty much invented the first smartphone. It had a keyboard with tiny buttons, and a small display on which you could easily identify pixels. That didn’t matter though, as it was one of the very first companies that enabled people to do so much more on the go, and, for the first time, businessmen could easily manage their work on the move.

So, why is it that today RIM’s stock rating is in the gutter, and why is this once grand company falling back on their marketing of the last few years? Let’s explore, shall we?

Some thoughts on the company’s decline

RIM’s downfall probably stems from the fact that, a few years ago, companies like Google, Apple, and even Microsoft were throwing billions into the creation of revolutionary technology. RIM stood their ground in the hope that their popular devices would hold firm through this period of booming technological development. I believe it is because RIM failed to adapt to new technologies, stood their ground, and made plenty of bad management decisions, that they sank lower and lower in the mobile market they once had under their control.

But it’s not like RIM got itself into this mess overnight. The process took years and is still unfolding. After years of losing market share and, more importantly, mind share, RIM’s joint CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis finally resigned at the beginning of the year.

With the ill-fated power couple gone and a new German boss in place, RIM’s share of the smartphone market is nowadays at about 15% and dropping fast. In fact, the share of Windows Phone devices is rising at the same rate RIM’s is falling.

Businessmen and their daughters

Industry leading encryption. Push email. Web browsing. These are all things that came to the masses via Blackberry’s first. But, let’s step back a little and see how a small Canadian firm managed to top the worldwide technology mobile market in the first place. As I see it, there are two big reasons for RIM’s initial success:

The first is Businessmen. Huge corporate deals amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars ensured that every businessman went around with a Blackberry device in his pocket. It was RIM’s golden age, a time when no device could even aspire to beat the indomitable and omnipresent Berry.

Which leads me to the second reason for the company’s success – Daughters. When new Blackberry models were issued in offices across the world, many companies preferred to save the money and time used on recalling old devices, and offer employees the chance to erase them and keep them for themselves. And since Dad had already been given a new phone for work, he gave his Blackberry to his daughter, who was eager to join the text-message revolution her friends were already a part of. What better device than a Blackberry? It’s small, ‘cute’, and, it even has a keyboard to make typing quick and snappy. Perfect.

So, the daughters of businessmen all got lovely new phones, which then led to subliminal peer pressure and general chit-chat that made Blackberries the must-have devices for teenage girls. Soon, RIM noticed their sales were booming in the consumer sector, and began to re-focus its marketing efforts on young adults and away from corporations.

This would have been fine, except RIM stopped working hard on their creations. Every now and then a new device had a better camera or a larger screen, but it was always the same trackball, keyboard, and overall, the same design. As RIM sat on its laurels, Apple and Google were developing their own devices, with impressive hardware and powerful, easily upgradable software.

I’m sure you know the rest.

Android has a rich set of applications available to its users, as does iOS and, now, even Windows Phone. RIM never foresaw that apps are the future, so it never developed a software infrastructure that people could easily develop for. The new ability for Blackberries to run Android apps won’t save RIM either. Why would anybody want to own a device that attempts to use applications aimed for another device? They will buy the Android device first.

Blackberry OS, the Playbook, and all the new devices RIM are/were launching are just attempts at catching up. What RIM should really be doing is funding development of new technologies which they themselves could release as revolutionary. After all, I thought it was in the name – Research. Right?

RIM has realised that it can’t compete against Android and the dozens of manufacturers that support it, nor Apple and their uberpopular iDevices. So they have (I think wisely) fallen back to making bespoke devices for businessmen, which may be the only way to save the company.

How can RIM turn things around? Is it too late for them? Was your first smartphone a Blackberry?

  • Beowulf1211

    yes, my first smartphone was a blackberry.
    Ever since their embarrassing release of Blackberry Storm, I’ve lost my faith in the company. The phone was horrible and RIM had the nerve to look-away and not provide any sort of support or software upgrades for it within 6 months.
    Disloyalty to loyal customers, embarrassing piece of hardware and their sheer incompetence to keep up with the rest of the world caused their bubble to finally burst.

    • My first smartphone was a blackberry too. I fell in love with the thing. It held the access to the sum of humanity’s knowledge, and it fit in my pocket.

      Sadly, the feelings you describe above are shared by millions.

    • TechnologyRules

      I could not agree more.

      I had the storm and in the end I hated it so much I throw it against the wall and smashed the screen and broke it because I couldn’t take giving it to anybody else or selling it.

      RIM brought this on themselves by first ignoring the revolutionary iPhone, then ignoring that the at-the-time tech behemoth copied Apple with android… Then they mocked the iPhone when it started gaining traction…. Then those two baboons, or bozos, the co-CEOs refused to step down after proving their worthlessness….. Then they ignored their own employees screaming out for change at a time when corporate politics had grown to resemble the falling roman empire…. Where alliances and borderline internal corporate corruption prevented advancements and the whole “it’s not what you know but who you know” mentality became the status quo…. Then last year they were so lost they just sat there like the Titanic’s movie version of events took place….

      And since I love Apple and hate arrogant assholes…. I am enjoying watching them fall apart!!!!!!

  • ~DMG~

    My first smartphone was indeed a blackberry.. A curve to be exact. I loved it so much. Then I went and got the storm because I felt I was going high end. I hated that phone but, I was willing to give them another chance but they didn’t have anything better with touch screen by time I was ready to upgrade.

    I jumped ship to Android and haven’t look back. I just really miss how I used to be able to delete my email from both device + computer.

  • The picture is so vigorous.

  • Stephen Gayfer

    Some of your conceptual thoughts are a little inaccurate Mr Cater. The final paragraph is one that is especially inaccurate about innovation. The PlayBook specifically the OS is perhaps one of the most innovative OS systems around. How many devices do you know that don’t require physical buttons to awaken the device from standby, close applications and accurately multi-task between 3/4 applications that are all still running in an un paused state? Yes there has been many flaws with RIM mostly with the CEO’s resting on their laurels believing their company to be untouchable but each company will have this thought. You also need to consider the great apple decline and it’s meteoric rise again. It was through clever marketing and brainwashing the masses, something rim has failed upon, Time and time again. There is also the backtracking you mention, as of yet this isn’t physically proven. Yes RIM want to focus on the corporate sector but they aren’t giving up just yet on the commercial because it is still making money. The fiscal quarter that some of your opinion has been based on was heavily influenced and inaccurately reported by the media.

  • Pixguy

    I went from a Blackberry to a Galaxy S Android and I hate it. Android is years behind Blackberry in voice recognition. With the Blackberry, I could click one side button with the BB in one hand and have a call made. And it worked 97% of the time. If it misunderstood me, it asked. Nothing like that with Android. Texting and email is far easier with a BB. How many apps does a business man need? Not many. If you need to play games, watch pretty colored lights, and watch movies on a tiny screen, then go Android. If you want a phone that will not fail you, need voice recognition for calls, a calendar, and quick texting and email ability, then stick with BB. In fact, I now use a BB Playbook for everything but phone calls. It syncs with my desktop PIM, updates my calendar, and receives and sends emails. Word processing and a spreadsheet capability is there. With Evernote, anything I do on the Playbook is immediately available on my office desk top computer and vice versa. As soon as my contract on that Galaxy gets close to expiring, it’s history.

  • LS

    There is nothing better than BBM. Many apps try to imitate but none of them are as reliable as the BBM.
    The playbook is a very good tablet. The initial price was to high but now at 200 is great! Much better than the ones from amazon and nook.

  • Netties

    Well, I’ve got to say that I’m in two minds right at this very moment (my upgrade is due shortly).

    I started out with the old school Blackberry 8700F (Before the days of Android, Apple and so on). Back then things were perfect; you had a bullet proof phone, stable O/S which did exactly what was required (Calls, Texting and Email etc)…

    Then, I went on to be the proud owner of a Blackberry Bold 1, then Bold 2. For me- this is where it all just went wrong… Released in 2011 I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that sucker…. Then, 3 handsets later following various “Crash” issues , Orange UK;s (Mobile Carrier) only answer was to replace the handset. Up until the Bold 2 (Which is the 9900) I could not fault anything about them at all… Friends used to rave about “I’ve got a better camera, I’ve got a bigger screen” – My answer, “So what, mine works and it does what I want it too”…

    It seems to me that Blackberry tried to keep up with a sector they were never supposed to be servicing? – If you want pretty pictures/videos/music blah blah – Buy an iPhone or get a DVD Player…. What annoys me is that the support and backup at Blackberry seems to be failing and badly. They moved away from their Core Purpose – BUSINESS PHONES!.

    On Balance, I’ve also extensively used Apple OS and Android and if I’m totally honest, the Blackberry Operating system on the Bold 2 is so straight forward, everything is intuitive. I have a Samsung on loan at the moment trying it out, and I always seem to have to “try” and find things. The Blackberry has everything where I need it.

    I really feel bad about the way things have gone for Blackberry, they were to complacent and let things slip with the very clients who got them their successm while trying to break into the “Everyday Smartphone” –

    So Blackberry, if you’re listening, Pay Attention – Don’t trying satisfying the masses and go back to the niche area you began in! – Half the executive’s (like myself) don’t want / need the s””t that you’re complicating your phones with… We’re busy “Working” not looking for the latest YouTube video or bothered about Facebook Apps or anything like that….

    I can’t guarantee any longer I will be stopping with Blackberry :(which is sad, because they had way more positives that negatives for my needs in Business…