To say that Research In Motion has had a rough year would be a huge understatement. They've lost almost all confidence and support from the majority of their shareholders and investors. Their tablet and BlackBerry 7 phones came and went without much of a fanfare in comparison to the hype surrounding other platforms' major handsets. And lately, things have taken a turn for the worse: their US market share dipped into the single digits just last month, and following the Q3 earnings call yesterday, their stock prices dipped to the lowest they have been since 2004.
It's probably safe to say things are looking a bit glum on the Waterloo campus today.
Through all of the muck, though, some of us have continued to hold on to that faint light of hope. Personally, I have been a BlackBerry fan and user since 2005. Despite the fact that their handsets of late hardly compare to their Android counterparts or the latest generation iPhone, I've tried my best to continue believing that RIM can turn this around. The promise of the next generation BlackBerry 10 handsets coming in early 2012, albeit a little late to the party, was enough for me and many others to keep believing a turnaround was possible.
However, during the earnings call yesterday, we learned that BlackBerry 10 handsets will not be coming in early 2012 as initially promised. Instead, they will arrive sometime in the second half of next year.
This obviously means they're about to bite the dust, right? It's easy to believe that, and if you looked at the Web yesterday (and the aftershock rumblings are still going on today), you probably saw hundreds of people commenting on how "RIM is dead," just as they do after any negative news from the Waterloo-based company.
No, things aren't great for RIM; they're the worst they've been in a long time. Even the most loyal of die-hards are branching out to other platforms, testing the waters in the event RIM does go under. But it could be much worse. After all, as Daniel Bader (@journeydan) of MobileSyrup pointed out on Twitter a few hours ago, "RIM made a profit last quarter and is debt-free" – which is more than a lot of "thriving" companies can say.
Since they're in a lull right now, though, they must be dead. Right? If so, they've been dead – or dying – for quite a long time to still be around, and to still be dying. The fact of the matter is, they're doing something right. They're spreading their reach across seas and around the globe, biding their time until they can launch a full-on assault on the US market with "current" devices.
And that's the kicker. "Time." It's something that none of us have enough of, and in the mobile industry, it's worth its hypothetical weight in gold. There are few phones and devices that can retain their luster through several delays. Compare the LTE Galaxy Nexus or iPhone 4S to the DROID BIONIC, if you will. Although the iPhone and Nexus were delayed several times, they're iconic, they're ... special, their hype and luster lived through the many delays. The BIONIC, however, was just another Android phone and after countless months of delays, it launched without a peep.
Time isn't on anyone's side, especially not RIM at this point. Yet they don't seem to be worried about how quickly (or slowly, rather) they're getting these next gen devices to consumer hands. They are perpetually staying behind the curve, bringing dual-core phones after Android is moving on to bigger, better and faster quad-core CPUs. BlackBerry 10 devices are already well on their way to becoming 2012's DROID BIONIC.
It's time for a change.
Back in June, RIM investors and shareholders teamed up to propose the company split up their unusual CEO structure. Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have been steering the company side by side for several years now, each with split roles – Balsillie handles public relations while Lazaridis gets his hands dirty on the technology. This worked quite well for them through the 90s and early 2000s. After the smartphone boom, however, things changed – clearly not RIM's approach at the market, though.
So the shareholders and investors called for a vote. Instead of splitting the two up mid-BlackBerry 10 project, they decided to give Balsillie and Lazaridis a "Get Out of Jail Free" card and gave them until the launch of BlackBerry 10 to see if the fruits of their labor would finally pay off and put them back in the running. When we thought that would be Q1 of 2012, it wasn't a bad deal. Just a few more months couldn't hurt, right? Now a few months has turned into six, maybe even 12 months. By the time BlackBerry 10 handsets arrive, talk of how BlackBerry 11 handsets will finally put BlackBerry back on the map will have started ... and so on, and so forth.
Chris Parsons (better known as Bla1ze) of CrackBerry, ran a poll just last week, asking "Should Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis be replaced?" Only 20 percent of participants answered that they should remain in place. It was a near even-split for "Yes, they have no clue what they are doing anymore" (39.77 percent) and "Maybe they just need a break, let some fresh eyes handle things for a bit" (40.07 percent).
I don't think Balsillie and Lazaridis need to be completely stripped of their rank or completely removed from the situation. But they need someone behind the curtain to get the ball rolling. If that means the two CEOs step down temporarily, letting someone else steer the ship for a while, so be it. Timing is everything and constantly staying behind the curve isn't going to put them in a better place than they're in now, even by growing market share internationally. Other platforms will catch up there as well. A single bad year isn't going to kill a company like RIM, but lollygagging and not taking percious time wasted seriously for long enough will.
I like the looks of the leaked renders of BlackBerry 10 devices, and I like the direction RIM is headed. But by late 2012, I will have long forgotten them. Assuming most of you couldn't care less about BlackBerry by now, you will forget BB10 by the time CES 2012 rolls around in January.
It's time to get the ball rolling, RIM, and "late 2012" isn't going to cut it.