Canada’s Research in Motion – RIM – screwed up. They owned the popular consciousness with the “Crackberry”, and then suddenly dropped the ball.
Then the ball rolled under the couch. And the company is still trying to retrive it from amongst the dust bunnies.
Meanwhile, RIM’s most valued brand, the Blackberry, has grown so much mold that it’s become that green fuzzy thing forgotten at the back of a grocery store cooler.
And neither the company nor its products are getting any fresher any time soon.
But, you know, RIM is under new management. The company finally (finally!) turfed its founding co-CEOs last year and promoted a geek from sales, Thorsten Heins, to the job.
And what an inauspicious piece of work this guy is. Mr. Heins mumbles like a bored teenager when he talks and spews the same sort of unintelligible generalizations that his predecessors loved so well.
Like Mike Lazaridis last year: “No other technology company other than Apple has successfully transitioned their platform. It’s almost never done, and it’s way harder than you realize. This transition is where tech companies go to die.” Oh wait, that actually made sense. And was oddly foreboding.
According to Mr. Heins, RIM is “going through an orientation”, “looking at all options” and — this is the best part — “in a transition”.
So, based on what Mr. Lazaridis said, that sounds like RIM is going somewhere to die.
In an article published in the Globe and Mail Mr. Heins did get a bit more specific, however. He explained that the company is hiring outside consultants to help him, “think about the business in new ways.”
Which translates roughly to, “we don’t know what the hell we’re doing — somebody help us!”
Because when a CEO has to bring in external resources to fire up the corporate imagination, you know all is lost.
But seriously: what is RIM doing? Other than laying off 5000 people and shredding their stock market value, no one seems to be too sure, least of all RIM.
We know what Microsoft is doing. They’ve got an interesting new device called the Surface coming out later this year, along with a completely revived mobile computing platform and a new desktop operating system.
Google’s got a bunch of über-geeky Nexus stuff headed our way including “Jelly Bean”, the next version of its Android operating system.
Apple has a new iPhone (well, that’s a carfully cultivated rumour, actually), and updated versions of both their desktop and mobile computing platforms headed our way in short order.
We’ve seen all this stuff demonstrated in great detail. So we know what Microsoft, Google and Apple are delivering.
RIM, though — what’s up?
Well, last year the company introduced us to the concept of “Blackberry 10” (or BBX as they called it at the time), in very generic terms with the clear assurance that what we were seeing wasn’t what would actually ship.
And whatever they might ship, it wouldn’t be for a year. Wait, though. That’s been pushed back to spring 2013. (Don’t hold your breath, though.)
Really, the only strategic certainty that RIM has provided is the fact that the company will shave $1 billion in operating expenses this year. And, oh yeah, dump those 5000 jobs. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Which is to say that RIM isn’t a tech company anymore. It’s a commodity in and of itself.
In recent interviews, both Mr. Heins and the company’s Managing Director for Canada, Andrew Macleod, were very clear on only one point: they were focused on protecting shareholder value.
Tech companies don’t protect shareholder value as a primary directive. They build insanely great products that get used and loved by millions of people. That, of course, naturally translates into shareholder value.
Remember 1997, when Apple was about to tank and it desparately hired back Steve Jobs? Mr. Jobs didn’t promise to protect shareholder value. He didn’t “explore all the options”. Instead, he focused the company, ingored the media’s psychobabble (yes, the stuff like this column) and got to work. A year later the iMac was born and the industry was turned upside down.
It’s time for RIM’s iMac moment. It’s time for RIM to release a risky new product that seizes the public’s imagination and makes us all think about technology in a new light.
Unfortunately, Blackberry 10, with its grab-bag hodgepodge of technological jargon (HTML5, QNX, Air, Flash, BBM, blah blah blah) and carbon copy attitude (can you say “iPhone wannabe”?) is not the company’s iMac moment. And Mr. Heins in no Steve Jobs.
Blackberry 10 is a boring iteration on the stuff all of the company’s competitors have done, a year after the competitors have already done it.
Personally, I’m not writing off RIM or Blackberry. Yet. All the same, the company’s worst days are not behind it and things will only get worse leading up to next March.
I obviously don’t expect great things from Blackberry 10 or RIM’s lame executives, but who knows? Maybe next year the company will surprise us all and introduce a complete rethink of the mobile computing experience rather than just regurgitate Apple.
These days, RIM’s PR jargon is laced with terms like “delaying”, “transitioning”, “rebuilding”, “difficult and challenging”, “changing the DNA”, “exploring options”, and “protecting shareholder value”.
It’s a messaging fabric woven of confusion and dyed in desparation. RIM seems all too happy to cut itself a hair shirt of the stuff. Let’s see how well it wears over the eternity of the next 9 months.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 6, 2012.