RIM’s future isn’t with BlackBerry

23 Jan

Research In Motion finally pulled the trigger Sunday night, with the BlackBerry maker announcing that co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie were stepping down. Chief operating officer Thorsten Heins is the new CEO while board member Barbara Stymiest takes over as chair.

As the saying goes, it’s too little too late.

While investors and analysts alike have been hankering for a change in leadership at RIM for some time now, Heins isn’t exactly the new blood they were hoping for. The German native, who has 20 years of experience at electronics conglomerate Siemens, has been with RIM for the past four years.

While the BlackBerry maker rose to great heights under Lazaridis and Balsillie - at one point it was Canada’s most valuable company - they also oversaw its tremendous fall from grace over the past few years, a spiral that went into overdrive in 2011. Having someone who The Globe and Mail says is their hand-picked successor at the helm isn’t exactly much of a change.

Stymiest, the well-respected director who has been pegged for the chairperson’s role for a while now, has also been with the company since 2007. Investors looking for fresh opinions and directions aren’t likely to get it from the new leaders. Heins even said as much - “There’s no need for me to shake this company up or turn it upside down,” he told the Globe.

Many observers would beg to differ. Despite the company’s hyperbole about its 75 million customers, the sun is quickly setting on RIM in smartphones. Not only are iPhone and Android carving up the market, Microsoft - in conjunction with Nokia - is poised for a comeback. The two partners were the stars of the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago, with the likes of Wired and the New York Times proclaiming both to be “cool” again thanks to the strong showing of the latest Windows Phones.

Microsoft has yet to translate its newfound hipness into actual sales, but it does have some significant long-term advantages over rivals. Not only do the company’s phones look and feel very different from the others, Microsoft can also take advantage of its huge PC and Xbox install bases to do things the others can’t. And lastly, there’s Microsoft’s biggest advantage: it has mountains upon mountains of cash to burn. It can keep hammering at the smartphone market until it finally gets its share.

As I said in my CES wrap-up, a resurgent Microsoft can only be bad news for RIM. In a four-way race between Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM, it’s pretty clear who the minnow is. Perhaps that’s why some people continue to hold out hope for the BlackBerry maker - while it was once the top dog, it’s now thoroughly the underdog.

If Heins really does want to save RIM, he’ll have to do the exact opposite of what he says he’s going to - he needs to turn the company upside down. RIM’s best shot might be to pull an IBM; get out of the hardware business entirely and focus on selling software and services.

The company’s most valuable assets right now are its software, servers and security. Focusing on its strengths and licensing those assets to rivals could be a smart way forward. Staying the course and trying to fight the big three of U.S. technology? That’s just downright suicidal.


Posted by on January 23, 2012 in apple, Google, microsoft, mobile, RIM


4 Responses to RIM’s future isn’t with BlackBerry

  1. Marc Venot

    January 23, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Maybe you can answer those questions:
    - why they don’t reduce their smartphone hardware range, for example one model with a real keyboard and one model only virtual?
    - how they can sell their 64M tablet at $300 and still make a profit?
    - does they give to Microsoft (or a big player) a royalty on each device sold?
    - does their new OS will be released late this year or the later?

  2. Alexander Trauzzi (@Omega_)

    January 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Once again, couldn’t agree more. Hubris and perhaps the disadvantage that they have no vision have doomed RIM. By what I’m going to say is sheer luck, the only asset RIM has today that’s of any value is QNX.
    It almost seems like they had this routine for producing products and specs, had it work really well once and decided it would always from that point forward.

    Short term, the only products or services I can see RIM doing anything with are built around their legacy infrastructure. Even then though - I don’t see them hanging around for much longer, I feel like I’m watching another SCO without all the thrashing and tantrums.

    RIM did this to themselves and if anyone like myself were to have said something before their recent issues, we would have been brow beaten into shame.

    THAT is the attitude that has ensured this company’s failure.

  3. Parallax Abstraction

    January 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I do still think RIM has a chance to save itself (I’ve been meaning to write a post on my own blog about this for a while which I’ll try today) and the first part of that strategy involved getting rid of Basille and Lazaridis but yeah, replacing them with this guy is not the way to do it. They need a fresh perspective at the top with new ideas, not someone who just wants to keep treading in water that’s becoming increasingly toxic to them. RIM is still profitable (barely) and has a lot of cash in the bank and no debt so they have the resources to reinvent themselves in the new smartphone environment if they want. They could save themselves but with people like this in charge, I think they’ll just keep bleeding until someone buys them for a fraction of what they could be worth. It’s a damn shame.

  4. bwalzer

    January 23, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Isn’t RIM more or less finished with their project at this point? They make a very nice proprietary mobile email solution. They pretty much singlehandedly created the need for such a thing in business.

    Eventually everything ends up as an open standard. We have the popular IMAP4 for email now. Does it even make sense to try to save RIM? Would it not be better to send the people involved off to lead the world to something else?


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