RIM 'quietly consistent' but future murky

Research In Motion pragmatic in reducing developer painpoints to reduce churn and attract new ones on to BlackBerry 10 platform, says analyst, but lack of new devices in market hurting revival hopes.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Canadian phonemaker Research In Motion (RIM) is still battling to convince onlookers that it has a long-term future in the mobile industry, despite making efforts to keep developer painpoints to a minimum as it moves its base from the aging BlackBerry 7 operating system (OS) to the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 platform.

RIM had given a sneak peak of its upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS and released the initial native and HTML 5 software development kit (SDK), which is now available for download, during its BlackBerry World conference in Orlando last week. It also noted that BlackBerry 10-powered devices will hit the market in the latter part of 2012, but declined to give a specific timeline.

Nick Dillon, analyst for devices and platform at Ovum, said there was nothing in the announcements to "blow people away" and that the company continued to be "quietly consistent".

He acknowledged that the new OS "looked impressive", but was unable to make a definitive assessment as it was merely a sneak peek and showcased only a few features.

The Dev Alpha device, which was released to developers so they were able to test of their apps, also failed to excite after the initial hype because the operating system on the device was not BlackBerry 10 but a "souped up version" of RIM's PlayBook OS 2.0. "These are just moves to keep people's interest up, but there wasn't anything to inspire anyone," Dillon said.

Going with pragmatism
With regard to retaining its developer base, the Ovum analyst said RIM has been "pragmatic" and knows it will face an uphill battle in retaining its Java-based developers as it moves its mobile operating system from the existing BlackBerry 7 OS to BlackBerry 10--which does not support Java programming language.

This effectively means a portion of its community base will be "cast adrift", and many of them are likely to stick to their expertise and move over to the Android ecosystem instead of retooling themselves to remain with RIM, he said.

To address this scenario, the Canadian phonemaker demonstrated that it is intent on reducing migration "painpoints" to a minimum, Dillon said. One example of this is its collaboration with app development company, Mippin, to create its BlackBerry App Generator.

The App Generator is an online tool that enables online publishers to build apps for RIM's smartphones and tablet device in "less than 10 minutes" and distribute them on BlackBerry App World, according to a blog post by Mippin.

Dillon noted that RIM will also look to recruit more developers that are versed in Web technologies to leverage its WebWorks SDK, or those looking to develop their sites in HTML 5 to keep the developer community big enough to stay vibrant.

Old questions left unanswered
Despite these efforts to inspire excitement among developers, RIM is still not answering key questions, foremost of which is when exactly will BlackBerry 10 devices hit the market, Dillon stated.

This was pointed out by analysts in January who said a new CEO, who was eventually appointed later that month in the form of Thorsten Heins, would not be the catalyst to get these devices into consumers' hands earlier.

Dillon also noted that while RIM's short-term prospects "will be fine" because it still has a "sticky customer base", particularly in emerging markets such as Indonesia, the same cannot be said about its longer-term future. The Ovum analyst explained that while the BlackBerry 10 operating system appears to be quite advanced, RIM will be going against "entrenched" incumbents in Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms.

Citing the example of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS, he noted that Redmond's offering is also advanced but has yet to gain much traction among consumers.

As such, if RIM fails to attract the attention of consumers for its top-end smartphone OS once devices hit the market, this will impact the Canadian company's longer-term prospects, Dillon surmised.

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