Research in Motion‘s latest quarter almost doesn’t need commentary. With revenues down 19% and posting its first loss in seven years, the company is clearly on the decline. The dismal financial news follows the revelation that BlackBerry phones were no longer the device of choice even in RIM’s home country of Canada.
Many have used the news to pile on, saying the long-predicted implosion of RIM has finally begun. Acquisition, once the topic of idle speculation about the company, is now a very real possibility.
There appears to be one glimmer of hope, though: BlackBerry 10, the next-generation device software that’s supposed to debut later this year. Repeatedly describing BB10 as a “platform” that the company will build its entire suite of products around in the coming years (maybe), CEO Thorsten Heins said the future of RIM depends on its successful and on-time launch.
That’s not entirely true. The future of RIM has just been determined by a recent decision Heins revealed in its earnings call: that it was going to refocus on the enterprise market. He backpedaled a bit later, saying that it doesn’t represent abandoning the consumer market (the majority of its customers are everyday “consumers”), but the message from RIM was clear: We lost the consumer smartphone war to Apple and Google. We’re backing off.
This decision makes a large degree of sense — and I support it — but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. By retreating back to its core strength of enterprise devices and services, RIM may eke out a happy existence, but it will never be the smartphone titan it once was, no matter how good BlackBerry 10 is.
The reason is the smartphone market is worlds apart from where it was when RIM was king — which was just a mere three years ago, as the market share flies. The “consumerization of IT” trend is in full force — witness the staggering number of businesses that plan to buy iPads in the coming year.
The business customer has evolved. The new species is much less tolerant of carrying two devices. It’s spent quality time with both the iPhone and Android handsets, and its pack leaders (read: executives) are quite partial to them. Finally, re-training the entire tribe on a new operating system like BlackBerry 10 just seems like a waste of time when everybody already knows how to use other platforms that are just as good if not better in many ways.
In the end, the number of businesses that really need BlackBerry — for its security, manageability and solid industrial design (RIM still makes the best keyboard phones on the market) — is fairly small. While RIM (or another company) can certainly create a viable business targeting those customers, a platform that’s based on them won’t ever achieve the kind of scale the company enjoyed in past decade.
If the outlook is so bleak with an enterprise focus, then why do I support it? Because RIM’s right — the consumer game is lost, at least as far as BlackBerry is concerned. You have two major ecosystems (iOS and Android) with a third on the rise (Windows Phone). More important, the market just crossed an important milestone with half of U.S. consumers now owning a smartphone.
Every day a new person enters the smartphone market, it declares loyalty to an ecosystem. By all counts, not many of those people are opting for a BlackBerry. By the time the new OS is an option, there will be even fewer of those first-time buyers left. BlackBerry 10 might be good, but it’s hard to imagine it being so amazing that a new customer will opt for it instead of the sexy iPhone or Android superphone on the next dias.
The time for RIM to strike back and regain its former consumer glory is long past. Really, it needed to see the iPhone for the wake-up call that it was five years ago. Or even four years ago. Or — what the hell — three. But it took until 2010, when the company acquired QNX software, for RIM to take decisive action in replacing its BlackBerry OS with something worthy of a modern smartphone.
So it doesn’t matter how good BlackBerry 10 is, or even if it comes a few months late. The businesses that RIM plans to court will use it regardless. They’ll buy it (because they’re convinced nothing else can do the job), their employees will use it (because they’re forced to), and RIM will either downsize or get bought (because what else are you going to do?). The rest of us will shrug, wonder what might have been, and go back to playing Angry Birds.
Images courtesy of Flickr, miggslives
For more Mobile coverage:
- Follow Mashable Mobile on Twitter
- Become a Fan on Facebook
- Subscribe to the Mobile channel
- Download our free apps for Android, Mac, iPhone and iPad