Research in Motion Limited, aka RIM and the creators of the BlackBerry, has had several hard hits in the past year. The Playbook wasn't as accepted as wanted and had several shortcomings making it hard for the tablet to complete in the marketplace. RIM's stock took a hit and fell drastically in May 2011, forcing the cancellation of several projects. A global outage this month caused by a hardware failure in a BlackBerry server had RIM offering rebates. What happened to RIM?
It's starting to look (to me, at least) that RIM wasn't ready to expand into the consumer market. The demands of consumers are different from those of business and government, RIM's previous core user base. The company's signature device, the BlackBerry, was launched in 1999 as a personal digital assistant. By 2004, the BlackBerry, called "Crackberry" by users and detractors, had over one million subscribers worldwide. Many of the devices were in corporate and government offices. The various departments of the Government of Canada rely on the device. Who knows how many BlackBerries were taken to Khandahar, Afghanistan, by senior officers in the Canadian Forces? Suffice to say, RIM knows how to handle a client base consisting of large organizations.
Along comes Apple, first with its iPod, then its iPhone, and finally the iPad. Competing with Apple is the Google-created Android on a variety of hardware platforms. These are RIM's first real competitors, with Palm and their Pilots having been left in the dust due to lack of versatile functionality (no email, no wireless). The iLine of devices and Android storm the consumer market. RIM had some inroads to the consumer market, primarily through a userbase that were familiar with the BlackBerry due to work. But, now, there's a choice.
RIM's Playbook tablet would have been enough for the corporate and government sector where there is already a BlackBerry infrastructure set up. The users needing one would already have a BlackBerry, the main item needed to provide the Playbook with wireless and email capability. In the consumer market, though, a tablet that also needs a PDA/smartphone connected is a non-starter. The cost of both would not compete with the iPad, with everything needed all included. Indicative of RIM's current issues was the announcement of a new OS, BBX. Although the OS is a good step, users were also expecting a new device that BBX would be running on. This disconnect is a major issue.
There's two ways for RIM to go. The first is to focus on corporate and government contracts. The infrastructure, particularly the BlackBerry Exchange Server, is in place at many sites, including throughout the Government of Canada. Devices can be upgraded along with the OS. Apple and Android have made little headway there. The other is to find people with vision, technical and non-tech, people who can get a feel for the consumer market and determine what the large consumer base wants before the base itself does. The second choice is harder, but may be what keeps RIM as a technological leader instead of a specialist.