RIM India puts a brave face, future still unsettling

RIM India's MD quits, offers auto-interception of communication over BlackBerry Messenger while planning to expand into tier II and III cities. They've got major hurdles and little vision on tackling them.
Written by Manan Kakkar, Contributor

RIM is going through some tough times. The company's products though popular aren't getting positive reviews. BlackBerry is being clobbered by Apple and Android; to make matters worse, Microsoft's Windows Phone is being considered as the third mobile ecosystem. Speculations and suggestions of RIM being bought keep surfacing frequently. With a brave face RIM introduced their tablet--the PlayBook. A failure in the market, RIM hopes to try again with a successor.

RIM's problems are being compounded by executives jumping ship. In recent weeks the company has lost two key individuals. Saudi Arabia, UAE and India have threatened banning BlackBerry services if RIM did not allow the respective governments access to encrypted communication. For RIM, providing secure and private communication for corporates while helping state governments against security threats, is a huge challenge. Trying to hold ground against governments demanding access into secure communication over BlackBerry services, RIM's head of government relations, Robert Crow left the company. In India, RIM decided to let the government authorities access to communication over BlackBerry messenger. Last week, in an update to their efforts on working with authorities, RIM said they've developed a system that will let agencies auto-intercept BlackBerry Messenger. The company said they are awaiting feedback from the government. Explaining further, RIM said that the government authorities have stepped down from their initial demands of encryption keys to secure email over RIM's servers. The change in stance is due to assurance from RIM's client that they will monitor and decode emails from potential rogue employees. In a statement to The Economic Times, director for enterprise sales in India, Sunil Lalvani said, "There is no deadline from the government's side to allow mandatory surveillance of BlackBerry's corporate email service. Companies using RIM's encrypted communication services have assured the home ministry they will share corporate emails of rogue employees in readable format if the security agency making the request has legal authorization, as in a warrant."

The second key RIM executive to quit was the Managing Director for their India operations. Based on reports, Frenny Bawa was influential in RIM's operations within Middle East, Africa and India. A RIM spokesperson in a statement said, "This is to confirm that Frenny Bawa — RIM’s Managing Director for India — is leaving RIM in order to pursue other interests. We appreciate Frenny’s past contributions to RIM’s growth and we wish her all the best." In the meantime, RIM has announced Urpo Karjalainen, senior VP for Greater China, Australia, New Zealand and India will be heading RIM's India operations. BlackBerry Messenger though popular won't last as the USP with growth of iMessage and services like Whatsapp. Realizing the stiff competition, RIM India is planning to follow Nokia deeper into India. Sunil Lalwani while talking to the press said they are planning to expand to tap the consumer (non-enterprise) market in India's tier II and III cities while continuing focus on the enterprise market. This is Nokia's bastion. RIM's lineup of handsets may attract some users but the appeal of smartphones and features offered by Android OEMs will be a tough challenge. Even for Nokia, Android is a serious threat. Not many have hopes with RIM's global plans. The company is expected to launch their BBX phones soon. The handsets are expected to compete with Samsung, HTC, Apple and everyone else. And that in many ways is RIM's problem. They are trying to be the Apple of the enterprise--their own hardware and software. Unfortunately for RIM, their hardware & software both suck compared to competition.

Perhaps RIM should license Windows Phone 7, like Nokia. The company can have Windows 8 on their tablets. unique to RIM features like BlackBerry Messenger and RIM's corporate email can give them a fighting chance as a hardware OEM.

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