6. RIM has banner year but trouble looms
Research In Motion had a good year by some accounts – there are now more BlackBerry users than ever – but the company is facing criticisms that it is falling behind its competition when it comes to innovation. Even worse, it faced potential bans this year in countries which could stymie its future growth. Does RIM need to reinvent itself to stay relevant in the smartphone market? Can it?
I don’t want to be too drastic, as RIM is still the overall market share leader in the United States when it comes to smartphones. But, like Nokia, there is a perception that it is being left behind on the innovation front – none of the mobile enthusiasts are craving the latest BlackBerry handsets and, more importantly, young app developers are looking at other platforms first.
RIM’s BlackBerry Torch represents multiple steps forwards for the company: it has a full touchscreen-compatible Webkit browser, comes with the BlackBerry App World preloaded, and has the styling to compete against high-end devices from other smartphone makers. It definitely is the best BlackBerry ever (read the full review here and a follow-up review).
The problem is that it still seemed a bit behind some of the competitors. The BlackBerry 6 OS was nice but it lacked the panache of the iPhone or the developer excitement of Android. The web browsing experience is better than previous BlackBerry units but that’s not saying much.
The App World has been gaining some ground and RIM has given developers more tools to create apps but it still hasn’t galvanized app makers in the way that RIM hoped. With more than 3,000 apps in the Windows Marketplace for mobile, Microsoft’s platform has been able to nearly match RIM’s App World in volume in a fraction of the time.
Even worse, RIM’s encryption and security has led to some issues in countries like India. Many countries want access to BlackBerry services for domestic terrorism prevention but RIM insists that it can’t break its own encryption. While a deal was eventually struck deals with Saudi Arabia, the potential in large, new markets remain.
It’s easy to pair RIM with Nokia as dinosaurs huddling for warmth but RIM has many positives in its favor. It still has a strong base of BlackBerry users – as evidenced by BlackBerry besting the iPhone in mobile web usage – as well as strong enterprise support. Unlike Nokia, it understands the importance of the North American market and has found traction with consumers thanks to its BBM service and its ad campaigns. And, when it comes to the enterprise market, RIM doesn’t really have any serious competitors as of yet.
The 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook was also introduced in 2010 and this could wind up having a huge impact on the company. While it won’t be released until 2011, the QNX software that will power the first BlackBerry tablet device will eventually replace the BlackBerry OS.
It also purchased The Astonishing Tribe late in the year to help it work on the UI of future devices. TAT has been able to pull off some amazing stuff, so it will be exciting to see what it can do given RIM’s resources and its constraints.
It’s not unreasonable to think that 2011 will be a year which determines the future of RIM on many fronts. Check out the following video of the BlackBerry Torch for a quick walkthrough of the premiere BlackBerry of 2010.