Research In Motion’s rise and downfall has been well-documented, even more so after the it announced its less-than-stellar Q1 performance in June. Aside from the disappointing numbers, investors weren’t particularly happy with the fact that the first BlackBerry 10-powered device won’t be available in the market until next year.
According to RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, he’s buying more time to deliver the most polished BlackBerry experience yet, instead of launching a half-baked product. The message Heins is trying to send is simple: BlackBerry 10 is RIM’s most serious effort to date to stay relevant, and time will prove it worth the wait.
Given the Heins’s, and with my personal experience with the BlackBerry PlayBook, I have no doubt that RIM will be able to impress with its new mobile platform. It has the potential to be more well-thought out than industry standards like iOS and Android.
That said, BlackBerry 10 won’t magically save the embattled company from all of its troubles, not overnight at least. The first challenge will be to convince consumers that BlackBerry has finally delivered — and should be given another chance. Indeed, RIM has a loyal customer base that won’t think twice before getting themselves one of the company’s latest and coolest.
But in order to grow, RIM has to impress existing iPhone and Android users, in addition to wooing first-time smartphone customers. It has to present a strong case to convince them to abandon their existing platforms, along with all their investments in apps and platform-specific services.
This is exactly the challenge faced by Microsoft and Nokia today. According to IDC’s latest report, Windows Phone — a mobile platform that’s received plenty of glowing reviews despite its lack of apps — currently has only 5.2 percent of smartphone OS market share, far behind Android’s 61 percent and iOS’s 20.5 percent. RIM’s share wouldn’t be too terrible if Windows Phone was offered exclusively by Microsoft and not licensed to OEMs. Of course, that’s not the case.
So, RIM’s in a position where it will be the sole hardware maker for the BlackBerry 10 platform, facing competition from all sides. Currently, only Apple is seeing success with acting as the sole provider of hardware for its software. It was inherently easier to compete in that position in 2007 or 2008, but like they say, that was then.
The Developer’s View
Capturing user base is only one side of the story. Capturing developers is another, and it’s just as crucial. RIM can only fit so much innovation into BlackBerry 10. The responsibility to expand the platform’s functionality lies on the shoulders of developers, by way of third-party apps.
Without a decent number of apps, a good mobile platform remains just that, a good mobile platform. Tasks that can be performed will be severely limited, which won’t be very appealing to users who are spoiled with apps available in the Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Granted, existing BlackBerry users are generally not as fond of apps as their iPhone and Android-wielding buddies. But as I said, it’s not enough to just keep existing BlackBerry fans happy. RIM will need to regain its market share to remain strong, and a large piece of the pie is now in the hands of Apple and Google.
Microsoft has been throwing a lot of money at developers in order to expand the app catalog of Windows Phone. Is it a strategy RIM should consider? Some may say RIM doesn’t have to worry much about securing a decent amount of apps for BlackBerry 10 because the company is different, but the fact that the platform’s first device will be full touchscreen shows that RIM understands that’s what the general consumers want.
It doesn’t want to be different by insisting on focusing most of its resources on making keyboard-equipped devices. It wants to create devices that everybody wants, not just one segment of users.