My plan to save BlackBerry from oblivion
The recently installed CEO of Research in Motion, Thorsten Heins. Photo: Reuters
If you were BlackBerry maker RIM's new chief executive, how would you save the company?
The device affectionately known as the Crackberry is in serious trouble as consumers look elsewhere. Maybe we're getting over the addiction? The bigger problem, in my view, is it appears Research In Motion's new chief, Thorsten Heins, has only been in the hot seat since January and it appears he's already given up.
So I've decided he needs our help. My grand plan to reinvent and save RIM follows.
But first, what's gone wrong? During a conference call with analysts last week, Mr Heins conceded he'd be quite happy to chat with anyone interested in buying the iconic Canadian company. If that's not a white flag, then I'm Father Christmas.
Mr Heins also revealed a quarterly net loss of US$125 million, the first in seven years. Profit was US$1.15 billion for the full year in 2012, down from US$3.4 billion in 2011. Adding to Mr Thorsten's woes, RIM's stock has slid approximately 75 percent during the past 12 months, with it now hovering under the US$15 mark.
Compare that with, say, Apple. Its stock is bouncing around the US$600 figure and its biggest problem is worrying about how much of its spare US$100 billion in cash should be doled out to shareholders (an activity akin to Father Christmas, as it happens).
Then came the kicker. Mr Heins said RIM was leaving consumers, returning to its roots selling exclusively to business customers. And that's a worry for a few reasons.
Firstly, CIOs are slowly giving in to persistent (and probably annoying) CEOs and employees who've decided they're much better at making smartphone procurement decisions. That's great news for employees who want to bring their own device to work, but not great for RIM if it's counting on selling exclusively to senior IT executives.
So it's back to the future, a return to RIM's heritage. Mr Heins hopes his CIOs will dig in, resist the bring-your-own device (BYOD) trend, and argue the Blackberry has better security controls. It's a long and tortured argument, but I've talked with plenty of CIOs in my recent travels.
Remote wipe and encryption technologies have largely overcome security worries. What's more, many CIOs are rather partial to iPhones and Androids, so they're inclined to find solutions.
So the next question becomes one of inferred meaning. At the risk of upsetting RIM and BlackBerry fans, if you don't care about consumer sales, does that mean you don't care about design, usability and reinventing the touchscreen?
A smartphone's fastidious ability to sync with enterprise IT policies doesn't quite stack up with a beautiful, intuitive interface. Or fashion, for that matter.
Consider my experience last weekend as a case in point. While assuming the role of Soccer Dad for the first time, I overheard a Soccer Mum on the sidelines advising her octogenarian parents on the vexed question of which smartphone to acquire to take photos of their budding Socceroo.
“You could get an iPhone, but have a look at the Samsung, they're cheaper,” she offered, nodding wisely. Subtext, Soccer Mums (in my scientific sample of one) think Samsung's smartphones are viable iPhone alternative.
A more scientific analysis can, however, be found courtesy of Neilsen research from March 2012. It says 48 per cent of smartphone owners in the US are running Android, the operating system you'll find on new Samsungs. Sadly for RIM, just 5 per cent of smartphone buyers picked a BlackBerry during the past three months. Ouch.
In Australia, the big news in June 2011 was an IDC report stating during Q1 Apple overtook Nokia with 31.4 percent of the total mobile market, and 40 per cent of the smartphone market. BlackBerry slipped back to just 6.7 per cent of smartphone shipments from 8.9 per cent in Q1 a year earlier.
Then we've got another issue. Apple and Google have successfully managed to dominate the enterprise IT market without abandoning consumers. In fact, Apple has for years consistently avoided any suggestion it's deliberately targeting the enterprise (Xserve systems aside). If you love consumers, the consumer design ethic, the enterprise follows suit.
So, what to do? The bottom line is Mr Heins needs to forget this enterprise-only nonsense and ship a cracking new smartphone that's so compelling we consumers dump our contracts, don the sleeping bag and camp out on the footpath in winter.
Here's the wishlist. A 6” high definition full size touch screen; ditch the thumb keyboard; two day battery life; a free and stupidly large cloud storage account for backing up your music, photos, documents and videos; cheaper and more beautiful than Apple and Samsung; support for Australian 4G networks; open source its operating system; and open up the proprietary BlackBerry Messaging System.
Yes, the list's a shade ambitious but hey, only the strong survive. Giving up, selling out and abandoning your most important customers isn't your only option.
What's your advice for saving the BlackBerry?