Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry phones, is shaking things up with a new CEO, Thorsten Heins. His mission: Stop the company from bleeding market share in the United States and restore the faith of investors.
Actually, RIM doesn’t put it that way. The company’s outgoing CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, spin their resignations as “a time in the growth of every successful company…to pass the baton to new leadership.” But from what we’ve seen from Heins so far in an introductory video and media call, RIM’s chances of recovery are still slim. Here’s why:
The Company Is In Denial
Ideally, Heins would have kicked off his tenure by addressing RIM’s biggest weaknesses: Failing to attract app developers, reportedly cultivating a toxic company atmosphere and lacking a vision for its future. Instead, on the media call, Heins offered niceties for his predecessors and said that better marketing would be the company’s major change. But how could he say otherwise? Balsillie and Lazaridis are still hold positions on RIM’s board. With the two former CEOs still looming large, it would be hard for any new CEO to push for dramatic changes.
People Don’t Care About True Multitasking
When pressed for reasons why people would buy a BlackBerry 10 phone, Heins pointed out that the software supports true multitasking, allowing users to run multiple apps at the same time without restrictions. It’s a cool feature, but one that most people don’t care about. If they did, RIM would have sold way more BlackBerry PlayBook tablets, which have this capability, without resorting to drastic price cuts. A healthy ecosystem of apps and services (things like cloud storage, streaming media and voice commands) is much more important to a platform, and RIM currently has neither. This speaks to a larger issue at RIM, one we saw when the company tried to market its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet around Adobe Flash support: Having one interesting feature isn’t enough. You need the whole package.
(MORE: The Tragic Decline of BlackBerry)
Android Apps Are No Savior
To compensate for potentially slow adoption by app developers, BlackBerry 10 will include an Android emulator, which can run Android apps submitted to and approved by RIM. This is clearly a Band-Aid measure. The Android apps won’t behave quite like native apps — if more than one is open, they use a separate app switcher instead of the main multitasking view — and there’s no guarantee that Android developers will submit their apps to RIM. So to hear Heins say he’s “very proud of that element in our product portfolio” makes me worry that RIM will rely too heavily on these quick-and-dirty emulations, instead of making big investments in native app development.
(MORE: BlackBerry: Vision Needed)
BlackBerry 10 Is Still Too Late
No matter who’s in charge, RIM still has to deal with BlackBerry 10 arriving late to a smartphone market that’s dominated by the iPhone and Android. That leaves BlackBerry and Windows Phone fighting for third place, and at the moment, Microsoft seems poised to win. Its partnership with Nokia has produced some interesting phones, and the platform’s hooks into Windows and the Xbox 360 hint at a future where everything’s connected. From Heins, the only hint we get at RIM’s future is more of the same.