RIM employee offers pointers on saving BlackBerry in open letter [Update: RIM replies]

It isn’t only RIM investors that have lost confidence in BlackBerry. An anonymous senior executive at Research In Motion just published an open letter to top management about some things to keep in mind for BlackBerry’s transition to a new QNX-based operating system. While the letter doesn’t provide any particularly exclusive insight to the company, the logic of his points are all sound: focus on the user experience rather than the technology, recruit empowered (but accountable) software team leaders, consolidate projects, appeal to third-party developers, revamp marketing, handle press with tact, and take constructive input from employees without firing them (hence the author’s anonymity).

The point on supporting developers with nice tools and proper documentation has been a sticking point with BlackBerry for several years; since RIM’s rough quarterly results, many app developers have announced that they’re ceasing support on the platform, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many existing BlackBerry devs didn’t bother optimizing for OS 7. More QNX devices are just around the corner, for which serious developer will need to make something new from scratch anyway

The point on marketing is also well-received. Despite having a product that’s technically fine and some solid production values in their ads, RIM has a bad habit of sending unclear messages in their marketing and interviews. One particular example that leaps out to me is their annual conference… Why would they call it BlackBerry World when there’s already BlackBerry App World. Those of us in the know are aware that one’s a conference and one’s a software store, but your average bystander could easily get the two mixed up. In a similar vein, over the last couple of years, the Bold, Curve, and Pearl families have been crowded with multiple models, which means when a customer walked into a store and asked for the Curve, and they would be answered with “which one, the 8520, 9300, or 8900?”. As you can imagine, the decision-making process could get confusing in a hell of a hurry. The letter’s author suggests ditching the RIM brand and just calling the whole company BlackBerry, which would make a lot of sense, but perhaps offend some nostalgic sentiments at the top.

The most chilling part of the whole thing is how seemingly intolerant of negative criticism RIM seems to be. Apparently, it’s dangerous to your career to offer any kind of dissenting opinion. I remember one time back when I worked at BlackBerry Cool, I was talking with some RIM people about how we used to have legal troubles about the domain name – RIM’s awfully protective of their brand, after all. Someone else chimed in and said “At least it’s not BlackBerrySucks.com, right?”, to which I joked “Nah, we’re just camping on that domain.” The evil eye I got from the first person lasted a solid minute, which seemed a little crazy to me; if someone on the outside couldn’t even make a jab in jest, one can only imagine how tight-lipped someone on the inside with valid criticisms might be. I certainly understand the importance of team spirit and positive thinking in these kinds of jobs, but that’s not worth losing the perspective needed to create competitive products. The author of the open letter suggested senior staff spend more time with iPhones and Android, which is a solid suggestion. I know at least a few of the lower-ranking people squirrel away other smartphones. God help you if you’re a partner at a BlackBerry show and you’re carrying something else, though.

Personally, I would be surprised if RIM’s leadership isn’t already thinking about all of the issues that were brought up, but if not, it’s a safe bet they’ve read the letter and are now. Anyway, if you guys had some friendly advice to help RIM in this “transitionary” period, what would it be?


Update: RIM has issued a reply to the letter, mostly expressing doubt that the letter is legitimately from high-level staff, and even if it wasn’t, senior staff are working on the issues outlined. RIM also iterated that they’re making plenty of money, and will be able to get through the transitionary period without any problems.

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