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RIM Stood Still, Lost Touch – and Got Passed By



At this point, it’s almost becoming cruel to talk about RIM’s demise. Watching the smoldering ruins of a company that was once the leader in smartphones, you can’t help but wonder how they could be so out of touch. With yesterday’s story from Jonathan Geller at BGR showing an even more intimate look at the inner workings of the Titanic of the smartphone industry, we get a clearer perspective on just how complacent these guys became.

RIM became the early leader in the smartphone arms race, and decided to stand still. They didn’t “stand still” in the sense of not working hard enough or not taking enough action – they did plenty of that. What we mean is that they didn’t change with the times. They got comfortable with their moment of glory and decided that the world would be forever frozen in the place that it was when they were the best.

Turning of the Tide

At one point the Blackberry was the best. When smartphones were a novelty, when they were an extension of PDAs, they were the coolest mobile device around. They were a luxury that only the wealthy and the corporate had. They were a status symbol.

But somewhere along the way (around, say, 2007) the smartphone landscape changed. With the introduction and mass adoption of the iPhone (and later Android), personal devices became the high-end devices. Business phones were no longer the premium smartphones. Employees would carry their Blackberry work phone in one pocket, and their personal iPhone in the other.

Apple swooped in, took Blackberry’s “premium” aura, and made their phones look like relics from the past.

Eyes Wide Shut

Yet RIM could have seen this. If they had opened their eyes to what customers wanted, to the changes that were taking place – they could have adjusted their approach. The iPhone’s main rival, Android, didn’t really blow up until 2010. That was three years that RIM could have used to come up with a similar iPhone competitor. They did nothing of the sort.

One of the more telling passages from a former RIM executive in the BGR piece:

[CEO] Mike [Lazaridis] was always focused on small, granular features like how to make the speakerphone in a BlackBerry the best speakerphone on the market. Mike would say that people were going to buy a BlackBerry because of the speakerphone…

So here we have Apple turning the market upside down with the introduction of the iPhone, and RIM is talking about having the best speakerphone on the market. They were so focused on their old model that worked at one point, that they refused to open their eyes and see the changes that were taking place.

According to the BGR piece, RIM’s executives were perplexed at the success of the iPhone and thought that they had the real secret to smartphone success:

“Mike is convinced people won’t buy an iPhone because battery life isn’t as good as a BlackBerry,” a different source said.

This complete disconnect from cultural shifts runs so deep that they still don’t appear to have learned anything. With this year’s launch of the Blackberry Playbook, the company’s venture into tablets, they’re repeating the same mistakes:

Mike Lazaridis looks at it as, why aren’t people buying this tablet when it has the most powerful engine with respect to multitasking, and supports Flash?

In case you missed it, one of their ads for the Playbook (which runs on this site) urges customers to “multitask like you mean it”:

So here we have Apple showing us how the iPad is “magical” and becomes whatever we want it to be. Whether you’re a fan of iRhetoric or not, it is effective in getting people excited about their products. It’s human.

Then, on the other hand, we have Blackberry advising us to “multitask like you mean it.” It’s not only the failure to connect on a human level (Android tablet marketing has also fallen into that), but it’s also a baffling blindness as to why people buy these products. Nobody wants to “multitask like they mean it,” RIM – not even your business clients.

Everything in life is forever changing. Birth, death, high tide, low tide, the shifting of the seasons, the turning of the planets, and the thoughts in our heads – all are forever in motion. You would think that a company called Research in Motion would get that. But, alas, they remained in a world where 2005 was frozen in time. It was nice knowin’ ya, RIM. You can grab your bulky, QWERTY keyboard-laden phone on the way out.



  1. Tamas Nagy

    07/14/2011 at 4:49 pm

    I do not agree the “useless” portrait of RIM products painted in this article. Yes, the advertisements is not great and they seem to have got lost in the details, but Blackberry is still a popular phone brand (at least I still plenty of them around the UK).
    I have had WinMo phones previously and now a Blackberry Torch and I definitely love the QWERTY keyboard – this is the main reason I would not buy an iPhone…. I type emails and other messages on my phone on a daily basis. I do not think I am all alone with a need for qwerty keys an a phone.
    Yes, the iPhone has swept the market with its new user experience, but I haven’t seen anything ground breaking in the subsequent models – same user interface, average hardware….

  2. Alain Chappaz

    07/14/2011 at 6:47 pm

    I’ve used Blackberry devices since the old 950. Recently been issued a BB Torch – and it’s the worst device of theirs I have ever used. Somewhere in the rush to pump out a smartphone and jack it up with a touchscreen and “consumer” features, they kinda forgot to make it a good phone. You can’t hear the damn thing ring, the speakerphone puts out a reedy whisper you can barely hear in a regular office environment, bad news all around, RIM !  Whatever troubles are coming their way, they seem to have (collectively) forgot to keep their eye on the ball and brought them on themselves.

  3. Rbaird

    07/19/2011 at 3:36 pm

    Well< Everybody just jumps in and predicts Blackberry is not a player in the Smartphone world! I run a small software company and I've watched our young guys abandon their Blackberry's. They always want to show me how cool their new HTC, Droid and IPhones are. I personally have a Blackberry Torch and consider myself gadget savy and I can honestly say Blackberry is in many ways still the best phone for
    business. If you want to have a cool phone,Torch is "cool." I really can do anything they can do on their smartphones like, e-mail, view PDF documents, link to Outlook, watch TV on Slingbox, send pictures and videos back to the office when I'm off site, stream music to my Bose sound system, Blutooth to my BMW and Range Rover, and also by the way I can even make PHONE CALLS and TEXT clients. I'm sure you can play games on my phone but frankly I'm not interested. Look, I don't know where this smartphone thing is going and I understand most people want their phone to be more than just a phone and in my opinion…
    Blackberry is just that, and you guys out there that are using your smartphone as a tool for work ask yourself….do I really need all this? Smartphones are like like the BIONIC MAN, but how much Bionic do we need?                    

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