RIM’s Slow Crawl Toward the Fast Lane

Research In Motion has said it will offer app makers a prototype of the next smartphone in the BlackBerry 10 line at an upcoming conference in May. Good news, but is it too little, too late? The phone will not be ready to roll into the market till late 2012.

RIM ruled during the last decade, but it has fallen way back since the iPhone and Androids hit the streets a few years ago. In fact, Apple’s iPhone has passed the BlackBerry not only in the U.S., but also in RIM’s home country, Canada.

I remember warning RIM several years ago, but I was ignored. The company didn’t even admit it had a problem until recently.

So now it knows. RIM has changed its top leadership, along with the way it looks at the very different marketplace and competition.

We have been waiting to see another new design, although new designs at RIM have been disappointing in the last few years.

Now RIM is getting ready to roll out its next new technology at an upcoming trade show — not to customers, but to app developers.

That is good, but No. 1, is it taking much too long? And No. 2, will it be worth the wait?

Against the Flow

This industry continues to change very quickly. And time is everything.

Remember when cable television company Cox got into the cellphone business several years back? It had a plan to build its own network and partner with others and become a competitor.

Then a funny thing happened. Apple and Google jumped in and changed the wireless business. Cox found itself like a salmon suddenly fighting to swim upstream, and the floodwaters were suddenly gushing down on it.

Cox withdrew. And it was not only Cox, but also Comcast and Time Warner that failed in the cellphone space.

RIM, as good as it once was, is like Austin Powers in the movies. It has lost its mojo.

It needs a new product and new software, and it needs them yesterday.

It needs a new marketing campaign and an updated brand, and it needs them yesterday.

It needs a breakthrough, sexy and attractive new product, and it has to catch on like wildfire.

Instead, what we see is a process that is taking much too long.

Makeover Needed

I hope RIM is successful. I like the company. However, it is in the slow lane driving like your 85-year-old grandma on a highway where younger kids like Apple and Google are blazing new trails.

RIM has to rebrand itself — or at least bring its brand into the future like AT&T did.

Remember when SBC acquired AT&T, Bellsouth and Cingular several years back? It wanted to keep the name “AT&T,” but realized it was old and tired.

What did it do? It updated the brand.

Its new logo looks much different, with small letters instead of caps. It updated the advertising. It did a great job of successfully transforming the company from an old-fashioned telephone company that was shrinking, to a very large and very fast-growing wireless company.

That’s what RIM must do, and it must do it now.

RIM is a big company with lots of cash, and it can weather this storm for a while. However, if the storm persists, RIM cannot last forever.

The first reaction to this new BlackBerry 10 from developers will be at the BlackBerry World Conference in Orlando early in May. RIM will be able to take the temperature of the attendees and see whether they are moving in the right direction and quickly enough.

Good luck, RIM. Stay tuned.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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