RIM: Open the competitive floodgates, end BlackBerry exclusivity

RIM: Open the competitive floodgates, end BlackBerry exclusivity

Summary: Reports suggest RIM co-founder had major competitive plans for his company's data network, but were shot down by new CEO Thorsten Heins. Could the plans have worked?


In a ballsy move by Jim Balsillie, sources told Reuters that the former co-chief executive wanted to crack open the BlackBerry network to competing products and crank the company into a new competitive edge.

But in typical RIM fashion, the plans fell through and nothing more was made of it.

One of the plans was to open up the exclusive-only BlackBerry Messenger service to other devices, including email and social networking as third-party software for competing products, in a bid to hook, line and sinker other mobile platform users.

It shouldn't come as the greatest of surprises with RIM's recent Mobile Fusion announcement, opening up non-BlackBerry smartphones to its services. The company would have likely been able to support the increased demand from rival smartphone users with its Android and iOS mobile device management software.

Also on the cards, and most crucially for winning back its rapidly depleting mobile market share, was to offer basic data plans to non-smartphone users, to entice cellphone users into the smartphone space in the hope of bringing them on to BlackBerry devices when they're ready to make the leap.

Android, iPhone and Windows Phone users could have been targeted in what could have been a competitive leap not seen in the company's history since it announced the PlayBook tablet. If only the company at least carried out its ill-fated tablet plan, despite being crushed in the market, it could have left Google, Apple, and Microsoft with a serious headache to contend with.

Balsillie was in talks with AT&T and Verizon in the U.S., an unnamed Canadian carrier, and Vodafone, Orange owner France Telecom, and Telefonica.

Alas, the $125 million loss in the last quarter led to the departure of the two co-chiefs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis who left the company, along with its chief technology officer and global chief operating officer.

But new chief executive Thorsten Heins strongly opposed the plan, seemingly brushing the plans aside when he stepped up to the chief position. The company seemingly reneged on its plans to further increase demand in the consumer market, and instead weighing on BlackBerry 10 to push the company through difficult times.

Despite RIM's refusal to comment on the plans, should the company --- in the wake of falling market share, financial losses, and declining business and government support for the ailing BlackBerry lineup --- focus its efforts on breaking exclusivity on its smartphone brand?

RIM's core business is on its data network and services, rather than the consumer market. The company doesn't make a great deal from its BlackBerry smartphones, and barely generates a penny with its PlayBook tablets.

While the move could be risky, risk is what the company needs --- at least in times of desperation. Ending the exclusive nature of the BlackBerry would give company a foothold back in the smartphone and mobile space. Ultimately, RIM needs to raise its competition stakes, and the only way it can do that is by targeting mobile users outside its own fruit-themed collective.

There are two simple things RIM could do to spur consumer growth, and Balsillie may have cracked it. Increase in business users for those crucial long-term contracts is all good and well, but for any company to compete with the likes of Android and Apple --- who seemingly put consumers first, and have since developed a strong enterprise base --- RIM needs to reclaim the money-making part of its business by hitting Google and Apple where it hurts.

Considering the recent bring-your-own-device craze, anything to infiltrate the business market again would be a saving grace. BlackBerry's may be the most secure device on the market, according to security firm Trend Micro, despite many Android phones reaching the same level of government certification and Apple seeking its own for the iPhone and iPad. But the device is not the be-all and end-all of its business. RIM should play to its strengths.

Take advantage of its data network and services, rather than its dwindling smartphone marketshare. A phone is a phone, but an infrastructure is what makes RIM stand out from the crowd.

But as Heins seemingly twiddles his thumbs waiting for BlackBerry 10 phones to arrive, while his executives enter panic public-relations mode after he stumbles his words and effectively kills the consumer market, a top-level leadership change may have come at just the wrong time for the company.

Image credit: CNET.


Topics: Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, BlackBerry, Security

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  • rim

    it could be a two edged sword. i think keeping it exclusive is better, porting it on android and ios means end of security.
  • Barrier to competition?

    An interesting article, even if vastly misguided. When one looks at RIM's differentiating technology, it's BBM and secure email. Their business model is based on social interaction (user-to-user communications) over its own secure network and even then, mostly to business users who need that -- the consumer space is simply an add-on market. Contrast with Apple's model which is based on delivery of (Mostly American) entertainment, and Google's which is based on delivery of an audience of consumers to advertisers.

    BBM is to mobile, what ICQ was to desktop. ICQ, once the leader in instant messaging,is not so much a leader today. Why? MSN which is "built-in" to Microsoft's Windows platform enjoys first access to market since users most often use what's available instead of downloading an extra app, if that de facto standard satisfies their needs "good enough." Yet, I don't see that argument for de facto standards on platforms being made here. In short, if BBM was an add-on app to Android or iPhone, would anyone download it or would Google and Apple simply enhance their IM function to provide "good enough" functionality and security-by-obscurity? The answer to that is clear, BBM would quickly become commodified and commoditized.

    The BlackBerry is arguably the most open platform available: Micro-USB data and charger connection (not Apple-cable), Standard Bluetooth, Java support (apps need not come from AppWorld alone), replaceable batteries, removable MicroSD card support. How is that "exclusivity?" Better you should train your suggestions of anti-competitive ecosystem at Apple.
  • Missed Opportunities

    I have been involved with Blackberry's and the Blackberry enterprise Server for over 6 years, the product is great at what it does. A couple years ago RIM was discussing a virtual blackberry client for devices other than Blackberry's, I even believe they released a Windows phone version but not being a Windows phone user I can't really comment. I believe that this was the right direction for the company and still is, they should develop clients for both Android and IOS that has all the same features of a Blackberry but included in a single application. This would allow companies to still use the Blackberry Server and also the Blackberry network and still include message tracking which is important in an Enterprise environment. It would also help with the BYOD movement as such they could create a client that can be remotely disabled and wipe only corporate specific information. I have been looking into Mobile Fusion and one of the big missing features is isolated corporate only data wiping for IOS and Android devices.
  • Now that RIM has finally changed CEOs

    ... all the bloggers calling for the change will claim that the two earlier CEOs were right all along.
    A comment on blogging ethics.
  • Who stumbled?

    "Stumbles his words?" Seems your phrase is the true word "stumble"; (it's not a verb). TH spoke frankly, which was perhaps a mistake because it so easily leads to (intentional?) misinterpretation.