RIM: Its Future is the BlackBerry 10 Platform; Forget Anything Else

It’s almost two weeks since RIM announced further delays in delivery of BlackBerry 10. It was a significant blow to RIM’s fan base; Chris Umiastowski had one of the most informative and realistic post-conference call posts that I had seen. The following week RIM started to fight back with a media blitz: CEO Thorsten Heins’ op ed piece in the Globe and Mail and a CBC radio interview. Later in the week Heins responded to ten reader questions selected by a Globe and Mail reporter who covers RIM. Monday an interview with CIO.com’s Al Sacco provided the most in-depth and frank interview yet.

Yesterday’s Annual General Meeting was largely a rehash of information released over the past two weeks with a few new details:

  • As mentioned for the first time in the CIO.com interview, new RIM CEO Thorsten Heins previously led the recovery of a multi-billion dollar division of Siemens during his time there.
  • BlackBerry Messenger on BlackBerry 10 will incorporate a video messaging feature.
  • If there’s one consistent message it’s that RIM’s future lies with its BlackBerry 10 platform evolution.
  • The launch date for BlackBerry 10 appears to have been narrowed down to January 2013. I’m wondering how this fits in with their usual CES activity in early January.
  • We learned some details of the integration effort that held up the BlackBerry 10 launch
  • RIM’s CFO expects RIM to maintain its cash position at the end of the second quarter less any restructuring expenditures tied to the current round of layoffs.

While there were some questions and comments about the Board composition (especially those members who had been around more than two years), I have to agree with Vic Alboini’s request to add board members with significant Silicon Valley, technology and international experience. These potential Board relationships can go a long way towards building the business relationships essential for BlackBerry 10’s success; they would also be asking questions from new perspectives. Making such appointments was a benchmark in my initial post after the CEO change:

At the same time, let’s hope the board can recruit a couple of significant “technology company” directors from, say, Silicon Valley to contribute to the experience spectrum and strategic executive networking.

But the clearest message of the past two weeks is that BlackBerry 10 is a platform, more than simply another OS. The primary focus remains the BlackBerry 10 launch in January with two devices while supporting current services and sales efforts, largely outside North America, although RIM did launch a new BlackBerry Curve on Verizon yesterday.

But any more articles on any of the following are a waste of time and (e)ink:

  • Go to a Windows or Android phone platform. That’s the best way to further delay the launch of any new device. Ain’t going to happen; give it up. (Apparently there are already over 1300 hardware devices that use Android.)
  • Break up the company and sell off assets. Ain’t going to happen. Forget it.
  • A sale to Microsoft: Ain’t going to happen especially when Microsoft is trying to break into the smartphone market and has just pulled an Osborne where Windows Phone 7 owners will not be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Steve Ballmer is also using extensive resources to integrate Skype into its current product line after the $8.5B purchase of Skype. Add in the “small” matter of launching Windows 8 this fall. BlackBerry simply would not have focus at Microsoft at this time.
  • A sale to Facebook: Ain’t going to happen. Would you want to be associated with a company that just completed a botched IPO?  And they are currently absorbing their $1B purchase of Instagram.

Take any of these options and you would also lose the passion of the remaining RIM employees; there’s no financial measure for that except the outcome of execution. I understand the concern of investment advisors such as Mr. Alboini; he has certainly suffered along with his own clientele and many other investors. But what’s past is now prologue. RIM is now all but a startup with a few major differences: $2B in cash, no debt, 650 carrier partners, 78 million users and a services operation. Sorry, guys and gals, but there’s no quick fix and there’s no Steve Jobs clone.

The current board recognizes the seriousness of the issue; Mr. Heins has now had six months to ferret out the issues and restructure the company. Trust me, based on my own experience with the restructuring of a NASDAQ-listed company, there will have been several “how the hell did this happen” moments as he took charge of the complete operation. Now the challenge for the new management team is to ensure the internal processes are in place to execute, especially when it comes to the launch of BlackBerry 10.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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