Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the the popular BlackBerry line of phones, is battling through tough times. The company’s stock price is down approximately 80 percent over 3 years in the face of intense competition from Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones running Google’s Android operating system. And just last week, the company released disappointing first quarter financial results, which included decreases in both net income and earnings per share compared with the first quarter of 2010.
And I haven’t even gotten to the bad news yet.
“But RIM Owns the Enterprise Market”
That’s the refrain that you’ll hear from most people in corporate IT during a discussion of RIM’s woes. And to some extent, it’s true (though the overall market share trend line is disturbing). However, BlackBerry’s position as the standard phone for major corporate customers is in jeopardy for a handful of reasons.
First, developers are bailing out on the platform
Apps are perhaps the most significant driver of growth for the smartphones and tablets. Unfortunately for BlackBerry, many of the top application developers don’t even bother developing for the platform. Sure, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter are there, but many of the more interesting new apps are available only on iPhone and Android devices (such as group messaging and photo-sharing apps).
Worse yet, there are signs that an exodus from the platform began long ago. One of the most high-profile cases occurred earlier this week when Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur announced that his company would discontinue its support for BlackBerry. As an added kick in the shorts to RIM, he then touted the potential of Windows Phone 7 as the best third option for a smartphone (behind the iPhone and Android devices, of course) in this video interview.
Second, commercial trends are driving enterprise policies
It’s no secret that the “consumerization of IT” is underway, with executive leaders demanding IT support for popular smartphones and tablets. Many organizations are responding by implementing “bring your own device” policies that permit employees to access corporate data from personal devices.
Guess which company stands to lose the most as this trend gains steam? It’s not Apple. Or Google. Or Microsoft.
Third, short product release cycles pose an unrelenting challenge
Since the release of the original iPhone in 2007, Apple has released a new version of the smartphone every year. And like clockwork, the iPhone 5 (or potentially, the iPhone 4S) is likely to be released in September of this year. Apple’s release cycle prevents the type of product stagnation that could slow the iPhone’s growth.
On top of that, roughly eighty-three (yes, 83) Android-based phones have been released since early 2010. Let me say that again: eighty-three Android phones in less than two years. While Apple differentiates its products for the high-end segment of the market by featuring simplicity, an “it just works” experience and an abundance of apps, Google is content to fortify its castle by partnering with an array of hardware manufacturers and service providers to gobble up market share among value-conscious consumers.
The relentless innovation from both Apple and Google hurt RIM by offering little time for the manufacturer to change consumer perceptions of its brand. Even an inspiring, radically innovative new product from RIM will have precious little time to resonate with consumers (and more importantly, business leaders) before another shiny new offering from Apple or Google pulls away the spotlight.
Fourth, the the iPad’s penetration into the enterprise has changed the game
While the iPad is commonly perceived as a consumer-focused device, between 65-80% of Fortune 100 companies have adopted the iPad for business use, according to reports. This phenomenon brings with it enhanced affinity for all iOS devices.
By contrast, BlackBerry’s release of the Playbook has been a disaster. RIM recently reduced its sales forecast to a range of 800,000 to 900,000 units in 2011, down from a projection of 2.4 million. Really — who wants a tablet that has to be tethered to a phone?
Living on the Edge
The truth is, all technology companies are just one misread of the market’s direction away from their demise. Blockbuster, for example, didn’t pivot quickly enough in response to challenges from Netflix and Redbox. Google, in former CEO Eric Schmidt’s own words, “screwed up” by failing to react to the rise of social networking (hence Facebook’s ascension as a rival advertising powerhouse). And Nokia reacted slowly as consumer preferences shifted away from feature phones to smartphones (at least in developed markets).
Like Nokia, which has turned to Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform in a fight for survival, RIM may soon be forced to embrace a rival in order to stop its free fall. Already, speculation has resurfaced regarding a potential acquisition by Microsoft.
So will RIM will choose to resurrect its BlackBerry brand through new products, a sale, or a partnership? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: RIM is in serious trouble, and it’s worse than you think. With developers fleeing the BlackBerry platform, consumer preferences driving corporate buying patterns, and product release cycles offering little hope for a sustained impact from new products, the story of RIM’s continued decline will be told through its sinking stock price.