RIM has gone from innovator to follower

Recently, a consumer electronic magazine ran a head-to-head review of the Big 3 mobile operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Window’s Phone 7.

Notice something missing?

The reviewer didn’t include Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry OS, dismissing it as “irrelevant” because its share of the market had fallen, in the past year, from 36 to a mere 30 per cent.
Irrelevant? Poppycock. A third of the market, even if it’s a number that’s falling fast, certainly isn’t irrelevant.
But there is a significant change in the wind for RIM, illuminated by the coming April 19 release of its Playbook tablet computer, which will run apps built for Android devices, and the porting of its BlackBerry Messenger app to the Android and iOS platforms.
Back in the day, RIM was an innovator. Now, the company has become a follower.
It’s plainly visible in RIM’s lust for the consumer market. The BlackBerry was once proudly, vainly even, positioned as a business device — no camera, no music. Now, BlackBerry TV ads punt it and its BBM service as the ideal combination for flirting. They actually use the word “flirt.”
Perhaps the decision to support Android apps was necessary to defend against the Apple iOS juggernaut, but it smacks of admitting defeat on the app store front. And is Android app support a differentiator against Android-based phones, especially when the signature BBM app is available for the other platforms?
And the Playbook seems to be a me-too tablet, released a year after the iPad into a crowded tablet market where there will be, outside of the Apple fanboi segment, considerable competition on price. RIM has largely been spared that in the past because of the uniqueness of its products.
RIM, it says here, should be playing to its considerable strengths instead chasing Apple and company down that road. RIM has an entrenched market in the enterprise space, and though iThings and Android devices are making inroads, the power of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is attractive and reassuring. There’s also consumer loyalty, especially in Canada, that’s as deep as Apple’s, though not on the same scale in sheer numbers.
The Playbook, when it launches, had better be more than a me-too tablet. It has to be distinctly RIM, with features and a use-case that make it stand out from the others. The company has a history of creating just that kind of technology. If the Playbook isn’t that device, RIM will continue to lose traction.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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