When talk of an acquisition becomes a reality, it's pretty evident that things have once been much better for the Waterloo-based company, Research In Motion.
The BlackBerry makers started feeling a bit of turbulence back when the original iPhone first launched, and even more so with the first popular Android devices like the Motorola DROID and HTC EVO 4G, which made their appearances in late 2009 and early 2010, respectively. Those popular devices, of course, were quickly followed up by newer, more advanced Android devices, and so on and so forth. Here we are today and the BlackBerry as we know it is approaching antique status. Even RIM's latest attempt with BlackBerry 7, albeit a large step forward, still fell quite short of expectations and the competition.
The good news is, RIM is hard at work on their next batch of BlackBerrys, which (again) are supposed to put them back on the map, and possibly "leapfrog the competition." So says co-CEO Jim Balsillie, at least. The next round of RIM-made handsets will feature a totally somewhat new operating system that is a mashup of BlackBerry OS and QNX, as featured on the BlackBerry PlayBook. The problem is, however, these devices are now slated for the second half of 2012 – long past their originally expected due date, possibly beyond their own expiration date.
While I have no doubt that BlackBerry 10 handsets will be another noble attempt from Research In Motion – they do, after all, have a few tricks up their sleeve yet – the industry isn't waiting around for RIM to catch up. Neither are customers. A slew of former BlackBerry enthusiasts (myself included) have since moved on to bigger and better things. The software just isn't there anymore; it's archaic and still strongly reminiscent of every other iteration of BlackBerry OS. BlackBerry 10 looks promising, but I'm not about to hold my breath.
Even with a much-needed new start, it may still be a day late and a dollar short. Those fanatics who have moved on have likely already invested themselves (read: spent money on apps and become accustomed to platform-specific services) in a new platform. Unlucky for RIM, getting them to switch back will be harder than just casting out a new line with fresh bait and hoping customers will bite. No, my guess is they will be more reluctant to come back now than ever.
While software might not be able to do it, if there is always one thing that can keep me coming back to BlackBerry, it's hardware. The build quality of RIM's high-end models has always been topnotch, and those keyboards ... Oh, those keyboards have always been second to none, and they've only proven to get better with time.
It's high time time RIM considers some options. Assuming The Wall Street Journal's sources are in fact correct, we know RIM is weighing their options with licensing BlackBerry 10. Licensing is a good start, but I think RIM is looking in the completely wrong direction.
Why would anyone want to equip their devices with BlackBerry software at this point? Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind trying a Samsung or HTC phone running the latest BlackBerry software ... just to see. But I don't think companies such as those will be so eager to get in bed with the competition that has fallen from the top to near rock bottom in the US smartphone market in just a few short years.
I wrote an article back in August detailing the perfect phone for me: RIM hardware with MIUI (a custom build of Android). Granted, some things have changed quite a bit since August, and it may no longer be the "perfect" phone for me. But for all intents and purposes, that opinion still stands. I would love nothing more than a modified BlackBerry running Android. A DroidBerry, if you will.
Think about it. RIM has always had trouble pleasing both the consumer and business markets with the same line of devices. Each user base has drastically different needs, so supplying two radically different end users with the same product was never going to work quite as well as they planned. And while RIM has never exactly shown interest in using someone else's software, they have decided to leech off of the much larger Android Market for a broader selection of applications. QNX and Android are closely related software; maybe, just maybe, they could be open to a much larger, more serious licensing deal in the opposite direction. And it just so happens that Android would be the one to require minimal changes to the existing game plan.
Not by any means do I think RIM should abandon their BlackBerry 10 efforts. But they should embrace it for what it is (business-centric software) while exploring different options. The first of which, should be considering marketing BlackBerry 10 handsets towards business users (and still offering them to consumers who may still want them) and offering a more consumer-centric OS, presumably something like Android or even webOS, to basic users.
Some Android OEMs have tried to replicate the classic BlackBerry front-facing QWERTY form factor with little to no success. The DROID Pro and all later variants (Admiral, XPRT, Titanium, etc.) have been less-than-spectacular. And HTC's attempt, the Cha-Cha, wasn't much of a success either. But imagine a well-executed, high-end RIM-made device (as pictured above) running Ice Cream Sandwich. There is obviously a market for such a device – a lot of former BlackBerry users found themselves on Android. I'm sure a lot of them wouldn't mind a perfect mashup of the two.
Who knows, it could be a huge success. Likewise, the whole thing could crash and burn. But where would that leave RIM? Probably not far from where they are now. If nothing else, it could buy them a little time. Not hearing a peep from RIM until the latter half of 2012 is only going to further hurt their ever-dwindling mind share. At least mention of something like this could spark some interest, if only to a niche market, and help bide time.
The chances of something like this ever happening are less likely than Aaron copying my hair style. Nonetheless, it's food for thought and something RIM should at least consider. What say you? Should Research In Motion explore a different operating system for marketing towards average consumers? Should they use webOS or Android? Something else? Or should they stick to their already-failing game plan?