Let me start off by saying that I’m somewhat biased on this topic since I’m an iOS developer. I also would like to note that it’s very unusual for me to make predictions. But I will in this case.
In my opinion, there have been a number of strategic mistakes at RIM since the introduction of the iPhone. Though no single mistake is a deathblow to the company, I feel that the combination of mistakes is very telling of the position of the company and their inability to innovate and compete in this space in the longterm. Let me go over a few of these mistakes.
The BB Storm was released shortly after the 2nd generation iPhone was introduced. Soon after it was released I got my hands on one. I had been using an iPhone over a year at this point, so I was quite comfortable with my touchscreen experience. Two features stood out to me immediately as I attempted to use this device: 1) it was not multi-touch. You would only make one touch gesture at a time, and 2) you had to press down on the screen to record your typing. The combination of these two mistakes amounted to a failure in my mind and the mind of anyone who had used an iPhone at this point. There was no way I was going to give up my iPhone experience and go back to this. Even most of the BB users I knew that tried it just went back to their previous model.
What stood out to me at this point was that RIM had over a year to innovate since getting their hands on an iPhone and they chose to release a device that way below the newly set standard. They have since failed to compete with Apple in this respect.
The Playbook and Android Apps
When RIM released the Playbook, I was somewhat excited. I even signed up for the Developer’s program. Recently, RIM has announced that they have been working to bring Android apps to the Playbook. This is see as a MONUMENTAL strategic mistake. The reason why this is a mistake is that this sends a very strong signal that 1) the apps that are developed specifically for the Playbook aren’t as good as their Android counterparts, and 2) that there are more Android apps than native ones (which is true).
My immediate reaction when hearing is was… “why would I buy a Playbook then, when I could just buy an Android tablet?” I do believe the average consumer will reach this very same question and chose the later when purchasing a tablet. Or just buy an iPad 2.
BB Messenger on iOS / Android / Windows Phone 7
Of late their have been rumours that suggest that RIM plans on introducing their popular BBM as a service on iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. For many years, BBM has been the flagship service which has not been duplicated well on any of the other competing devices. Sure there have been apps like kik and others, but RIM has not hesitated to drop lawsuits in the laps of those companies to defend their patents of BBM. In my opinion, if RIM drops BBM on the rest of the smartphone world, this will mark a dramatic shift in the company from a hardware/software company to a software only company. This will also be a telling sign of the internal state of RIM as a competitor in the space. Though I think RIM can survive in the space as a smaller player in the coming years, their market share will definitely be affected if this product is released. I know many BB users that would switch to an Android or iOS device the day BBM was available on one of these platforms. BBM is the last innovation that RIM has left to offer that general public. Once this is handed off, even at a premium, the effect would be to stifle the production of their handsets and potential split off BBM as a separate software company. If this is the plan, I wish them luck.
With all this said, I don’t expect RIM to be a major player in the smartphone space in 2 years. Their market share will fade into the teens by the summer of 2012 and then into the single digits. by the following summer. Baring a dramatic shift in their corporate makeup, I don’t believe RIM as a company has the corporate culture to reinvent itself as an innovator in the space.