RIM: Open the competitive floodgates, end BlackBerry exclusivity

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?
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

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.


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