By Paul Reali
Here’s a question to ponder: will there be a Research in Motion in five years? How about three years? Because I don’t want to bury the lead, let me provide my answer to that question: yes, there will be a RIM…as a business unit of Microsoft.
Now, let’s explore why it might play out this way.
The backstory on RIM is straightforward. Simplifying, RIM created, and for a good while dominated, the market for secure corporate in-your-pocket email communication, with their BlackBerry mobile phone. The telephone part was not the key to its success; it was the traveling email client, which integrated nicely with corporate email servers and networks. The iPhone (or, perhaps we should call it the far sexier iPhone) was not seen, by RIM, as a threat. The iPhone, they reasoned, was a consumer phone. As long as they continued to provide the integration and backbone, they were safe.
The widespread and well-publicized RIM system failures tarnished the company’s reputation, certainly, but the greater damage was this: it provided the impetus for RIM’s corporate customers to begin investigating other options. Once I.T. departments determined if and how they could support other devices, the tide had turned.
Here’s the problem that RIM can’t seem to fix, or fails to understand: for the user, it’s all about the phone. And for corporations which have to decide which devices to support, it’s all about the user. (I will acknowledge here that the user, typically, seems to be the last priority for corporate I.T. departments. But even I.T. eventually cedes to the will of the masses, and of their bosses.)
RIM has attempted to provide phones that are equivalent to the Android and Apple smartphones, but their devices have been critical and commercial failures. The company still has its strengths, including many customers who support no other mobile device platforms; dominance in emerging markets; and the (currently, for a few more minutes) unchallenged BlackBerry Messenger application. (Apple offers iMessage, which, like BBM, works only within its own universe.)
Perhaps it’s time for RIM to reframe the problems and the opportunities. Here are a few ways the company might think about the road ahead:
I suspect that the question RIM is asking itself, however, is how might we survive at all? And if that’s the question, the answer is: be acquired by Microsoft. Microsoft could make RIM into a very profitable division, and allow The House That Gates Built to move beyond its own failures in the phone arena.
RIM could survive on its own, too. But only if they are asking the right questions, and finding the right answers.
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