BlackBerry Maker RIM Suffering From An Identity Crisis

With BlackBerry PlayBook sales dwindling, growing unrest from shareholders and a CEO ouster under way, BlackBerry needs a miracle.

2011 was a rough year for Canadian enterprise mobile communication solutions company Research In Motion with the biggest blow to their performance being the dismal performance of the BlackBerry PlayBook and RIM shares tumbling close to 75%. Now RIM are in yet another pitched battle, this time with a section of their shareholders who want the company broken up and sold because, as they say, “the party is over“. Others have more derisive reasons why RIM are in trouble but despite all this, there is a need to really look at the BlackBerry RIM issue from a new perspective.

News coming out of the company has indicated that the two co-CEOs cum co-Chairpersons of the company may soon be demoted and a new CEO and/ or Chairperson named as the company tries to diffuse the ticking time bomb that is RIM. I have written about RIM before and noted that their biggest mistake was getting into a market that they were not prepared for, the smartphone market. Remember RIM are enterprise mobile communication experts, not smartphone makers.

This shows that the biggest issue that may be ailing RIM is not in fact competition or any other such issues but rather a conflict of interests or better put, an identity crisis. You see Research In Motion is better cut out to provide enterprise mobile communication solutions rather than sell smartphones like say Samsung or Apple would. In a previous post, I wrote how IBM were able to renew their business in the face of stiff competition and shifting fortunes in the technology scene by jumping off the personal computer bandwagon.

That gamble paid off because now Big Blue have created a whole new niche all to themselves that very few other companies, if any, can muscle in on. This should have been the direction BlackBerry took when they realized they could not compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung. They should have differentiated themselves to become enterprise mobile solution providers rather than become just another smartphone manufacturer; even HTC have realized this and are now starting to move away from making brand smartphones to becoming midware vendors.

This identity crisis is perhaps best exemplified in the BlackBerry PlayBook. In the first place, the name simply does not fit in with such a serious enterprise oriented company. WorkBook, maybe; PlayBook, probably not. But that’s just a small bit of the major issue with the BlackBerry tablet. The biggest issue is simply the fact that RIM did not make a case for enterprise tablet applications, which happens to be their very strong niche.

If RIM had come out and said, hey, here is a way to use a tablet in an enterprise setting and we have preloaded all the enterprise-grade apps and features you need, most enterprise customers would have bitten the bait, and RIM would have had the luxury of selling the service (not the tablet) for a premium. Unfortunately, when the RIM tablet was launched, it smacked of “we also have a tablet, in case you get sort of bored with your iPad”. So guess what, everyone treated it as just another alternative to the iPad and other tablets, and worse yet, a fairly expensive alternative.

So where does all this leave Research In Motion? It leaves them in pretty much the same place HP is right now and IBM was a few years back. That place where you have to symbolically cut off your right arm in order to save your soul. RIM must make some quick calculations and get out of the smartphone market fast.

The enterprise mobile communications market is still pretty much theirs for the taking and so they should forget about chasing after Apple, Samsung and other phone manufacturers and go back to making enterprise communication solutions that may not have bells and whistles but that get the job done. The actual devices should only serve to augment and complement the enterprise communication solutions they come up with. In the meanwhile, we hope the incoming CEO will have some Aces up her sleeve because truth be told, RIM seriously need some new tricks.

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