Things that might save Research In Motion – a personal opinion

FIG 1. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the ex co-CEO of RIM [Left] and Thorsten Heins, RIM’s new CEO [Right] 

Two days ago, I read news about RIM new CEO. Co-CEO of RIM have stepped down from their position and RIM CEO position will be held by Thorsten Heins. Those two RIM’s (ex) co-CEOs – Mike Lazaridis, who co-founded RIM in 1984, and Jim Balsillie, who joined RIM in 1992 — aren’t completely out from the company. Mike will serve as Vice Chair of RIM’s Board and Chair of the Board’s new Innovation Committee and  Jim’s as an outright director. So, they are still in control where the “innovation” from RIM will be directed to. In my opinion, it’s a questionable decision. Mike certainly has failed a lot in recent years to drive innovation enough to keep RIM competitive to their market. It’s very clear that we won’t see many drastic changes in RIM decision in the future.

The new CEO, Thorsten Heins, is not a new people in RIM. Before being announced as CEO, Heins served as Chief Operating Officer, Product Engineering. He has been responsible (in some degrees) for those uninteresting Blackberry products.

The new CEO has released his first speech as the CEO (you can find some interesting quotes from Engadget here). In my opinion, the speech is trying to assure all of us (especially the investor) that RIM is still fine and will continue what RIM is doing. Is that RIM should do in the future? I don’t think so.

FIG 2. BB OS 7 home screen. BB OS 7 offers only little improvement over OS 6

RIM now is releasing phones with BB OS 7. It is actually intended to be OS 6.1 but for marketing sake, it was named BB OS 7. It is very similar to OS 6 and still leave big gap compared to other mobile OS, such iOS, Android or Windows Phone. It looks better than pre-BB OS 6 era but it still looked dated and limited. I am not saying Blackberry is total disaster but their products are just not compelling any more (maybe except to people in my country, Indonesia, which “worship” BBM). They have left behind for too long. They actually have made improvement in their new OS that based on QNX technology. The OS in BB Playbook is actually very smooth but it shipped with important missing features, such as native email, calendars, contacts, and BBM). It also failed to fulfill its promise to add these missing features in time and they have announced that smartphone with BB OS 10 (their new QNX-based OS) will be shipped in late 2012, which is might be too late.

So, does it mean RIM is doomed and the only way for them is down? I think there is small possibilities that RIM’s presence will be as mighty as it’s ever been but there are (in my opinion) some actions that they can do (under their new CEO) to save RIM.

I am a Blackberry user and my experience with my phone is rarely nice. I know I don’t use the latest version of Blackberry but I experienced I don’t think I have to with this kind of hardware. First, it lags a lot. It has very bad memory management. I have re-installed the official OS, clean all but my most important apps (like Opera Mini and Whatsapp) and it’s still lags. Many apps also are able to cause battery live dramatically shorter. So, my point is BB OS sucks (I use BB OS 6). My Bold 9700 have processor with 624 MHz clock speed and 256 MB RAM. In today’s term, the hardware is not impressive but I’ve seen iPhone 3GS with similar processor clock speed and RAM run very smooth with the latest version of iOS, the iOS 5. Same thing happen with some Android phone running in similar specification. I guess there is something wrong in their OS and they have failed to optimize it to run lag free. So, BB OS 10 can’t afford to show any sign of lags if they want their user love it. It have to be able to run as smooth as other mobile OS, particularly iOS and Windows Phone.

The second thing is the maturity of the OS when it is released. RIM has learnt the hard way of the BB Playbook failure due to missing important features. Next BB OS 10 smartphone (or next-gen Playbook) have to have all of these important features out of the box and working smoothly. Other mobile OSes has already mature enough so the BB OS 10 can’t just have mediocre functionality and looks but it has to have distinctive looks and reliable functionality. And one additional thing, they have to finish this new software fast. Very fast. If the time gap between product announcement and product release is too long (or worse, product delay), they will lose the momentum, hype and excitement about that product. When they finally released the product, most people won’t care and your products probably have been irrelevant in this ever-growing market.

The next thing is about the marketing hype. They need to create the right hype about their products and deliver over the people’s expectation. Nokia recently has succeed to some degree to make people aware about their Lumia smartphone and their brand. RIM also need to make people remember that it is a brand that produce modern, reliable and beautiful products.

FIG 3. Three models of Blackberry OS 7 smartphones that are released in 2011. Start from left to right: Bold 9900/9930, Torch 9810, and Torch 9850/9860.

RIM need to focus more. They have released a bunch of products with slightly different price, hardware, design, etc. In 2011, they release Bold 9900/9930, Bold 9790, Torch 9850/9860, Torch 9810/9830, Curve 9350/9360/9370, Curve 9380, BB Porsche Design P’9981 and the underappreciated BB Playbook. I think they release too much model. They are not putting their maximum effort to create only several models but the best one. They should have focus more on developing their BB OS 10 as fast as possible. I know they are using their BB OS 7 smartphones as a temporary revenue sources until BB OS 10 is ready but at least they can make only several model BB OS 7 smartphones that are unique and exciting enough.

I know this article seem to be harsh on RIM and Blackberry smartphones but actually this is the things that maybe RIM need to focus more in 2012. CEO switch won’t make much difference (if any at all) if this new CEO doesn’t move fast enough to push the arguably RIM last life line, the BB OS 10. If he can lead though this transformation phase well, RIM might still have chance in the future. Maybe not as mighty as before but at least will save them from completely become irrelevant.

News sources about new RIM CEO:

1. Engadget Editorial: RIM’s new CEO isn’t the shakeup it needed

2. Forbes: RIM CEOs Balsillie And Lazaridis Step Down As COO Takes Top Post

3. Ars Technica: RIM co-CEOs step down as company reboots top leadership

4. The Verge: RIM: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis step down, co-COO Thorsten Heins is the new CEO


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