By Jordan Crook
Whenever a company appoints new leadership here in the tech world, the blogosphere seems to unanimously post about what the new top dog needs to do to make his or her company better. I promise, you’ll see dozens of headlines today talking about what Thorsten Heins must do in order to save BlackBerry.
In many cases, I agree with what’s being said. RIM’s (RIMM) in trouble, and without a new vision the company risks slipping even further behind the competition. You know… “the other fruit company.”
So rather than list out all of the things Heins needs to do to save the company (which, we can all agree, would take a really long time), I’m going to tell you guys the five things that Mr. Heins absolutely must not, without a doubt, under no circumstances… do.
That is, if RIM wants to keep selling smartphones.
In less than a day at the post, Heins has proven himself to be quite the quote machine. My favorite: “I don’t think there is a drastic change needed.”
Alright, Mr. Heins. In that case we have a problem.
First, let’s just take a look at RIM’s numbers over the course of 2011. According to comScore, RIM slid from an 8.6 percent market share in January (as far as mobile phone OEMs go) to a 6.5 percent share in November. Where smartphone OSes are concerned, the dip was much more pronounced. RIM’s 30.4 percent share in January fell to almost half that, 16.6 percent, by November.
If these numbers can tell us anything, it’s that a drastic change is in fact needed. Yes, the BlackBerry brand did make a huge impact on the mobile landscape, and sure, there are still plenty of people in the Middle East and Europe (and even here) that heart their little BBM-machine. But whatever mind share the brand used to have is dwindling, just as the numbers are.
Sure, a superphone with killer specs would be great. A solid operating system? Yep, the company needs that too. But until leadership over in Waterloo realizes that enterprise-level security on messaging and a physical keyboard are no longer bringing in the “ooohs” and “aaahs”, nothing will change.
Lose Track Of Time
Anticipation can be deadly, as can forced urgency. RIM has struggled with both in the past year.
The company first announced it would be transitioning over to the QNX OS in April of 2010. It’s now 2012. Granted, the BlackBerry PlayBook is enjoying its QNX status (although the PlayBook has its own problems), but when we focus on smartphones the company has yet to offer or even announce a QNX-powered (BBX, or more formally BB 10) BlackBerry.
A big part of the mobile realm has to do with timing. If you know Apple’s (AAPL) about to release a new iPhone or that Google (GOOG) is about to pop out a new version of Android, you aren’t going to run out and pick up a new phone. No, you wait. It’s a fact these companies need to embrace.
If I’m a BlackBerry owner in April of 2010, and I hear that an entirely revamped, much more powerful OS is in the works, I want to wait to upgrade my hardware. But over the course of the year, Google launches Ice Cream Sandwich and Apple releases Siri and the iPhone 4S. And what do you know? RIM’s market share tanks to half of what it was. Obviously QNX wasn’t worth the wait for many.
I’m not saying the move to QNX is a bad decision. The opposite, in fact. But if you’re going to bet the company on a brand new OS, get yourself in gear and make it happen. And in the meantime, shut your lips about when it’ll be available and how awesome it is. You’re only frustrating your loyalists and asking potential Android/Apple defectors to come and check out… well, nothing.
But rushing is just as fatal, which is the story of the PlayBook. No need to relive that nightmare, but you know the important parts: no email, no contacts, no calendar, no PlayBook owners. It’s quite simple: If it’s not ready, we don’t want it.
RIM is more than just your basic OEM. The company provides services and, to an extent, builds out its own software. It’s an ecosystem, which is what every electronics company strives to be. But RIM’s ecosystem is one with a serious lack of wildlife — a tundra, if you will. Especially compared to the jungle of iOS and Android.
Developers take what is usually a very fundamental system and make it do everything and anything. Without the App Store, my iPhone is actually quite limited. That’s what owning a BlackBerry is like.
Compared to two app stores with well over half a million apps each, RIM’s BlackBerry App World boasts just 38,363. Unfortunately, at least 5,000 of them are visual themes. RIM’s own services like BBM are great but compared to other platforms, such a small selection (even with BBM) is a tough sell.
The good news is that any app built for PlayBook 2.0 will also run on BB 10, so in that way, RIM can double up on developers. Still, you need developers to build before you can run their app on both tablets and smartphones, and if I were a developer I’d already have lost interest. RIM needs to take note of this and create some incentives quickly.
If you have an iPhone or Android device, there’s probably an app for that.
Perhaps the greatest mistake that former RIM leadership made was to ignore the folks that comprise the company. I say it may be the biggest because who knows what kind of mind-blowing ideas and game-changing opportunities RIM has passed up under old leadership. In the past year, numerous open letters from both curernt and ex-employees have pointed to the same thing, over and over again: Mike and Jim didn’t listen to the lower level.
RIM has plenty of young guns, I’m sure, who are much more in tune with what today’s consumer wants from their smartphone. In fact, many of them probably grew up in a world where mobile phones were ubiquitous and smartphones are the growing norm, which can’t be said for Mike, Jim, or Thorsten.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that every single one of his new employees will be looking to see if he’s Mike/Jim’s new puppet (especially after this morning’s comments). They’re all waiting, likely pregnant with ideas on how to better the company, to see if he’ll turn an ear to them or not.
Hopefully he’s got his listening ears on.
It’s easy to follow when you’re already behind, but Mr. Heins must resist. It would be easy to follow Apple and Android because that’s largely what the company has been doing since 2009, when it launched a competing app storefront a year after Apple launched the App Store. But I’m less worried about that.
After the comments he made earlier today, namely that no change is needed, it would seem that Heins is already on Lazaridis and Balsillie’s team. The problem is that they refused to look forward, instead focusing on their glorious past. By saying that no change is needed, Heins is basically agreeing with them and telling the board, investors, and BlackBerry owners that the company has no real plans to compete in this landscape.
While the spec is dead (and megapixels don’t really mean that much in terms of picture quality), I remember the names Titan 2 and Xperia S because HTC and Sony (SNE) hooked up these phones with 16- and 12-megapixel sensors. In the past year every flagship has had an 8-megapixel camera, and while I don’t think that either of these phones are a huge upgrade, they’re still the first of their kind.
It wouldn’t hurt RIM to try to be first at something. The company has likely forgotten the feeling of being first, which means they’ve likely also forgotten the value of it.
But everyone, most importantly the consumer, loves to be first.