Freshly minted Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is promising the company’s U.S. employees a new smartphone of their choice.
There’s just one catch: it can’t be a BlackBerry.
According to Business Insider, which posted significant portions of Mayer’s memo, employees will have a choice of the Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X, HTC EVO 4G LTE, Nokia Lumia 920, or the upcoming iPhone 5. “We’d like our employees to have devices similar to our users, so we can think and work as the majority of our users do,” she wrote, adding that Yahoo will shift away from BlackBerry as its corporate device of choice.
Somewhere up in Waterloo, at least one Research In Motion executive could be screaming in frustration over this development. Not because Yahoo is a bellwether for corporate smartphone use; its U.S. employees shifting to an iOS, Windows Phone or Android device won’t automatically drive other major companies will follow suit. But as a symbol of RIM’s current issues, it’s difficult to find a better one than a high-profile technology company dumping its collective BlackBerry stock in favor of pretty much any other platform.
For a very long time, RIM had a lock on the corporate smartphone market. Even after Apple rolled out the iPhone, and various manufacturers introduced the first generation of Google Android devices, businesses continued to issue new BlackBerry devices to employees.
Two things helped change the equation in a way that put RIM at a severe disadvantage. First, cash-strapped businesses stopped issuing their employees devices, instead embracing the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model. Suddenly employees could bring that iPhone or Android smartphone into the office and have it linked to their work email and other software. In turn, this drove developers in the iOS, Android, and Windows Phone ecosystems to develop a variety of business apps, which helped create a virtuous cycle for further BYOD adoption.
Second, RIM failed to zig where the rest of the industry zagged. As a corporation it continued to focus on long battery life, physical QWERTY keyboards, and hardcore security as prime BlackBerry selling points, even as rival devices played to consumer interests with bigger touch-screens, hundreds of thousands of apps, and tight integration with social networks. As a result, RIM’s market-share crumbled in the face of increasing iOS and Android dominance.
RIM’s hopes for survival are pinned on BlackBerry 10, a sleek new operating system founded on the same QNX code-base that powers its PlayBook tablets. If rumors and early glimpses prove correct, the company will load BlackBerry 10 on a sleek touch-screen device. RIM executives have spent the past several months trying to convince third-party developers to build lots of apps for the new platform.
In other words, after several muddled quarters of sailing its own path, RIM is trying to maneuver the BlackBerry ship so its hardware and software faces in the same direction as iOS, Android and Windows Phone. That might help the company gain some renewed traction with consumers and businesses. But it might be too late to preserve its hold on companies like Yahoo.