Smart phone industry observers argue for both a leadership shake-up and a significant redesign of the BlackBerry device. The debate about RIM and its BlackBerry brand rages on as the company prepares to host its annual shareholders meeting next week

Does RIM

A change in leadership and a blockbuster new device are both needed to bring Research In Motion Ltd. back to smart phone supremacy, according to industry observers.

In addition to missing its sales targets for its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and fighting off criticism from a leaked letter allegedly written by a high-level RIM executive, the company is now facing increased pressure from some financial investors to revamp its combined chairman and CEO management structure. Currently, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis sit as co-CEOs and co-chairmen at the Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry maker.

Mark Tauschek, a research director covering networking and mobility for London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said that while he does not expect anything dramatic to occur at next week’s RIM shareholders meeting, a change of leadership is badly needed to fix the company’s lagging momentum.

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“I’d love to see them do well, but they need to change their leadership,” Tauschek said. “RIM needs a really strong visionary leader to help them start making beautiful devices that are easy to use and that people love.”

With the flood of slick Android-based devices on the market, coupled with the forthcoming release of Apple’s iPhone 5, developing and releasing a compelling smart phone is not enough anymore, he said.

For Tauschek, luring back the development community and getting end users excited to purchase a BlackBerry smart phone will be an impossible task without an entirely new form factor.

“The only way to get things turned around is to come up with such a compelling and new device that people flock to it,” he added.

Tauschek said that thinking beyond the traditional smart phone or tablet device might actually be the way to go for the company. But, he said, radical hardware design and concept changes are unlikely to occur without some fresh faces at the top.

Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst based in Northborough, Mass., agreed with Tauschek. He said pumping more money and resources into hardware design might actually be as important as software design moving forward.

But, Gold added, financial analysts and media pundits might actually be panicking too soon.

“They’re still making money and have a ton of money in the bank,” Gold said, “If they never sold another device they’d still be around for another five years.”

The problem for RIM, he said, is the company has been slow to integrate technology from recent acquisitions like mobile OS maker QNX and user interface firm TAT, while Apple and Google have rapidly been upgrading their mobile platforms. Gold said as long as RIM keeps working away at the new products it has in the pipeline and successfully integrates the QNX OS into BlackBerry devices, the company should be fine.
 
But for Tauschek, RIM’s steady financial results do not cover the loss of its marketshare and mindshare among consumers. He compared the company’s decline to Nokia Corp, another smart phone giant that has experienced rapidly decreasing support from the industry.

“If you ask a former RIM employee, they’ll tell you that the biggest misstep the company made was underestimating or being oblivious to the rise of the individual liable mobile device model,” he said, referring to the recent “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) trend sweeping IT shops.

Tauschek said RIM’s plans to take BlackBerry Enterprise Server across platforms, which lets IT administrators manage Android and iOS devices, will at least help keep the BlackBerry brand in the enterprise for the foreseeable future. But without a killer new device, that might not be so far into the future, he added.

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