RIM can look to Asia for recovery

Expanding presence in Asia-Pacific market and articulating tablet strategy with stronger apps ecosystem among five areas new CEO should focus on to put BlackBerry maker back on road to recovery.

Attracting third-party application developers, making devices more user-friendly, and expanding beyond the U.S. and European markets are some key areas the new CEO of Research In Motion (RIM) should focus on to reinforce the company's position as an enterprise smart device vendor.

After taking over the reins just last week, Thorsten Heins revealed that he was planning "significant" changes for the BlackBerry maker but did not elaborate on what these would be.

Heins did single out the U.S. market as one where the company lost substantial market share and "something we have to address".

Industry analysts, however, told ZDNet Asia that RIM should look at expanding its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and diversify its reach.

The Canadian company has been on a downward spiral, having lost market share to Apple's iPhone and Google's Android devices. In its fiscal third quarter, RIM reported a decline in profits to US$265 million from US$911.1 million the year before.

The market analysts highlighted five key areas that can put the company back on the road to recovery.

Expand in Asia-Pacific, maintain Canadian identity
According to Jake Saunders, vice president of forecasting at ABI Research, RIM has a strong brand name and presence in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. However, it needs to expand and be more competitive in China where iPhone is more dominant, he said.

Carolina Milanesi, Gartner's consumer technologies and market research vice president, said the BlackBerry maker would do well to establish wider geographical coverage that includes Asia-Pacific, adding that the company cannot depend solely on mature markets such as Europe and North America which are already saturated.

Tim Renowden, consumer IT analyst at Ovum, agreed that RIM should continue to focus on business development in Asia-Pacific growth markets, but noted that the company should still maintain its Canadian identity, as the North American market remains vital to the company's success.

"No one company should focus on one geographical region, they must figure out different strategies for promoting products in different markets," Michael Gartenberg, Gartner's research director of consumer technology and market, said in a phone interview.

Attract third-party app developers
Renowden also highlighted the need to develop a clearer strategy for attracting third-party application developers to RIM's platform.

He explained that apps were critical to the success of a mobile platform and this was an area in which the company still lagged its competitors. RIM would need to establish a strong case, supported by strong developer tools, to encourage independent software vendors to build apps for its devices, he said.

"The current approach is extremely flexible and provides many ways to develop apps for PlayBook and BlackBerry 10, but doesn't clearly answer the question of why developers should invest in BlackBerry applications," the Ovum analyst noted.

Milanesi added that developing a strong appstore focused on consumers, offering a wider range and apps at lower prices, was pertinent for the company.

Consumerization will increasingly impact enterprises and unless RIM appeals to consumers, its market share will continue to drop, she said.

Make devices user-friendly
In addition, RIM should make its devices more user-friendly, Saunders said, noting that end-users find BlackBerry's integration "frustrating".

He also urged the company to work on its touch-screen functions as an increasing number of consumers do not see the need for physical buttons. The TBI analyst added that users enjoyed touch-screen technology that supports predictive text capabilities and noted that RIM devices did not appeal to customers as they constantly have to figure out how to use the device.

"RIM must move away drastically from QWERTY," Gartner's Milanesi said. "Touch is what users want today."

Earlier BlackBerry 10 launch
Milanesi also urged RIM to roll out BlackBerry 10 as quickly as possible because it could prove a key differentiator, and the company needs developers to tap its operating system, QNX.

According to Renowden, a late or botched launch will irreparably damage RIM's credibility in the market. The Ovum analyst added that the ongoing development of competing platforms means the BlackbBerry maker must aim high if it wants to create the kind of "company-saving buzz" that it really needs.

This will also be a crucial test of RIM's ability to execute its plans, as well as to combat the threat of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy, he added. "People must really want to use a BlackBerry rather than an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone handset," he said.

Establish tablet strategy
According to Saunders, tablets are here to stay and recent developments have included providing ultra mobility and expanding screen sizes into the 7-inch space.

"Nokia has set the bar and tempo with its tablet, and RIM must be on the same trajectory," he said. "They must come up with something bold, innovative and eye-catching, pulling the company in a new direction to reassure investors and customers."

It needs to articulate a strong use-case and enterprise application strategy for tablets, Renowden noted, adding that the first PlayBook was a disappointment and had failed to gain traction.

The updated PlayBook and potential new products will give RIM another chance to crack the enterprise tablet market, he said.

He noted that app development remains a major barrier to PlayBook adoption, but there is considerable interest in tablets from enterprises if a solid use-case can be articulated.