5 Things RIM Must Do Quickly, Or Become Irrelevant - InformationWeek

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Fritz Nelson
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5 Things RIM Must Do Quickly, Or Become Irrelevant

Research In Motion still has strong products and a coveted enterprise position, but it must move quickly against more innovative competitors.

If ever a company were black and blue, it would be Research In Motion, but it hides its bruises well.

At its big event this month in Orlando, Fla., co-CEO Mike Lazaridis was smiling in a giddy run-up to the introduction of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Adobe CEO Shatanu Narayen, and 3D application demos that showcased RIM's recent acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe.

Ballmer was the biggest surprise, and he promptly rewarded his host by pimping Windows Phone 7. "I love Windows Phone," he belched like a rude houseguest after dinner. "But I won't talk about that today." God love him, he doesn't even know he does it.

Ballmer was there to overstate the humdrum announcement that Microsoft's Bing would be the default search engine for the BlackBerry. Unfazed by Ballmer's belch, Lazaridis continued with some crowd-pleasing tricks like running Android applications on the PlayBook, announcing that Angry Birds is coming soon (the mobile industry's new rite of passage), and then, for the grand finale, gave away a PlayBook to each of the 6,000 attendees. One day soon, it may serve them all well.

The main criticism was that BlackBerry World lacked jaw-dropping news. One week later at Google I/O, clear across the country in San Francisco, Google unleashed several new products, some of them in typical experimental form, and without apologies. In stark contrast to RIM, Google portrayed a future, albeit a lofty one, where its mobile devices sit at the center of a universe of wirelessly connected and controlled appliances and services. All Google I/O attendees got a free, unreleased Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablet, a 4G Verizon Mi-Fi, and a Samsung Chromebook.

Now all eyes turn to Apple, which will host its Worldwide Developer Conference June 6 to 10, also in San Francisco. Don't expect any giveaways, but by the time summer hits, RIM may simply have been forgotten. Already, RIM watchers have latched onto the company's struggles: a loss of market share, especially in North America, lower earnings forecasts, a depressed stock price, and recalled PlayBooks.

At BlackBerry World, Lazaridis barely acknowledged these struggles, stumping instead about the company's successes--for instance, the 14 million BlackBerry smartphones sold in the first quarter of 2011, its 370,000 registered application developers, and its 250,000 instances of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) installed. One CIO said he was at BlackBerry World mostly to check on his investment: After all, of the company's market woes, what does its future look like, this CIO wanted to know, especially as end users are bringing in Apple and Google-based devices in droves.

It's unclear whether CIOs will see any benefit in RIM's use of Jennifer Lopez in its PlayBook launch, even if she delivered each of them personally, so RIM had better get back to more important things, like these:

1) The Phone. Whereas every other smartphone manufacturer seems hell-bent on being a better iPhone, RIM just keeps making its addictive phones. Not everyone will like them, but the security of BES, the brilliant BlackBerry keyboard design, and now the touch interface that will find its way onto every new BlackBerry make these devices stand out.

Todd Wood, RIM's VP of industrial design, said his team makes dozens of prototype devices to get the user interaction just right. Unfortunately, it took that team until late last year to get a touch interface right with the Torch (after the forgettable Storm), and even in doing so the Torch is noticeably underpowered. At BlackBerry World, the company produced the Bold 9900, which combines the best of the Torch with the popular BlackBerry Bold, and in demonstrations the product proved to be incredibly responsive.

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