As 2011 marched on, it almost obliterated Research in Motion® (RIM) with its ‘footsteps’. RIM®, the company behind what used to be the hugely reliable BlackBerry® phone, took a huge hit on several key fronts in 2011. For example, its stock price fell spectacularly. A couple of key service outages that weren’t handled very well by RIM — mishandled, might be more like it — hurt RIM a lot. Despite some serious gaffes by RIM and its top executives, the brand remains an iconic, Canadian, renowned company, and the brand continues to be used globally. This is the (brief) story of RIM, its beginnings, its impact, and where it might go next.
As RIM itself says, they “revolutionized the mobile industry with the introduction of the BlackBerry® solution in 1999.” And so a fabulous story began over a dozen years ago. Known for its security features, and until very recently, for the device’s and its network’s reliability, the Blackberry brand has been seen in the hands of everyone from President Barack Obama to celebrities like Jennifer Garner, Kim Kardashian, and Cristiano Ronaldo. In short, BlackBerrys have always had a great deal of clout and sexy appeal.
Not counting former loyal users who perhaps swapped their BlackBerry for a sexier iPhone or a fabulous looking Samsung, it’s estimated that by the fall of 2011, there were 70 million users worldwide. Statistics available in mid-2011 showed that a full one-third of Canadians were BlackBerry users (representing a 42% share of Canadian smartphone subscribers). According to a survey done by Prosper Mobile Insights — during the Fall of 2011 — demographics showed that more “rich” people preferred BlackBerrys (i.e., rich meaning household incomes of $150,000 or more), with iPhone use about 1% behind, and Android use lagging quite a bit behind that. Is that still true today, in the spring of 2012? Hard to say, as RIM took quite a beating in late 2011. But it’s an interesting dynamic, and speculation might say that the high number of BlackBerry users are so entrenched due to the inherent security of the BlackBerry device. Perhaps another reason people still flock to BlackBerry is due to BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), a secure way to quickly send and receive messages. It’s very secure, actually, and in some instances governments have asked RIM to break their own security so they could ‘drop in’ on riot planners or even those people using their device for nefarious or terrible activities.
RIM was founded in 1984, and is headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario. It has offices around the world. It’s new President and CEO is Thorsten Heins. Mr. Heins was named to this office in January 2012, much, as some press would tell you, to general yawns and suspicion. Before becoming President and CEO, he was Chief Operating Officer of Product Engineering, and is largely thought to have been in the outgoing co-President’s and co-CEO’s inner circle. We’re optimistic about Mr. Heins’ appointment, however, as RIM was in need of a serious changing of the guard.
BlackBerrys are good examples of what’s called “convergence” in tech circles. What that means, in short, is that one device—formerly used, say, as a phone — can perform functions of other devices too. The first BlackBerry, the “850”, was a simple two-way pager that made its debut in Germany in 1999. Since then, RIM has released an astounding variety of models to suit every need and taste, from touchscreen specials like the Torch, to the Curve, and the Bold. The Bold is one of their most popular phones, and in fact many models, support both a full QWERTY keyboard for ‘thumbing’, and cool touchscreen technology. BlackBerry screens have gained higher, sharper resolution over the years; but then, they have to, to keep up with the amazing images coming from other Smartphone makers. In 2010, to compete directly with the iPad, RIM released the BlackBerry Playbook™. RIMs entry into the tablet market, a market taking the world of computing by storm (or is that Storm?), hasn’t put much of dent in Apple’s market share. In fact, shortly after its release in the Spring of 2011, many major sellers reduced the price of the basic unit due to lagging interest and sales. That said, the release of the new Operating System for the Playbook has great interest attached to it, as RIM will allow Android-based applications to run on their tablet. (For those of you who aren’t aware of the different operating systems on Smartphones, all are fairly-to-greatly proprietary, which means one brand doesn’t like or sometimes even allow another brand’s software to run on it. Android devices include the highly popular Samsung Smartphones and tablets, to RIMs allowing their Playbook to run some Android apps is a large deal.)
In addition to where BlackBerrys are going with their ground-breaking ‘push’ technology (that’s where e-mail, contacts, appointments, and to do items are ‘pushed’ to the phones without synchronization being necessary), RIM has long been known for its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), which will integrate with a company’s e-mail system. For example, BES will work with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, and others. For those of us not on BES, for individuals, there is BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service). BIS is available in 91 countries, and allows up to 10 separate e-mail accounts to be used. While not as fully functional as the enterprise version, it works well for the ‘average’ user.
As BlackBerry heads into the future, under its new President and CEO, RIM is prepping Smartphone users to get ready for their exciting new operating system called BB10. We don’t know if that will be enough to keep loyal users loyal, or to bring on new users, but we do know this: the little Canadian company that grew to become the powerhouse that RIM is today is hanging in there. A look at the new operating system was recently given to CrackBerry, and their reviews were favourable. And a recent article in the Huffington Post said RIMs future bets must be hedged on making the user experience for the individual (something it did well for corporate users) as appealing as an “Apple-like experience”.