RIM's annual BlackBerry World kicks off in Orlando Monday afternoon, and the company is in a dramatically different position than it was a year ago. In early May 2011, RIM had just launched the PlayBook, which met with mixed reviews, and had yet to reveal its lineup of BlackBerry 7 devices. Its position in the smartphone market was weakening, but hadn't yet bottomed out. There was hope going into the year-ago conference that RIM could prove to investors, the media, and customers/partners that good stuff was on the way. Only, RIM dashed those hopes.
RIM's former co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie took the stage and danced the same dance and sang the same songs they'd been singing for years. It was Microsoft's Steve Ballmer who stole the show when he made a cameo during the keynote and (believe it or not) pitched Windows Phone. The BlackBerry 7 handsets announced at BlackBerry World 2011 were once again rehashed former designs with slightly warmed-over software--much to the dismay of attendees.
Now, the story is different.
Lazaridis and Balsillie are out, and Thorsten Heins has taken their place. With a new CEO at the helm, the company has promised change. At BlackBerry World 2012, RIM needs to show everyone that change is fully underway. Here's how it can do that:
1. BlackBerry 10
RIM's future success hinges on its forthcoming BlackBerry 10 platform. BlackBerry 10 is an amalgamation of BlackBerry 7 and PlayBook OS 2.0. RIM says this future operating system will offer the enterprise savvy of BlackBerry 7 with the intuitive and delightful user interface of the PlayBook. The platform and handsets aren't supposed to launch until later in the year, but RIM absolutely must show off a near-complete build of the BB10 software during BlackBerry World. According to RIM, it will.
The company plans to distribute prototype BlackBerry handsets with a preview of BB10 on board to developer attendees at the event. This developer device (which RIM has insisted is not what BB10 smartphones will look like) should give us a decent idea of what we can expect from RIM's software engineers and BlackBerry 10 later this year.
RIM needs to wow us with its new software.
2. Better BlackBerry Smartphones
I don't expect to see new smartphones from RIM at BlackBerry World next week, but RIM can still provide attendees with an idea of what its designers are doing. One of the main weaknesses with RIM's products is that they can't compete with Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platforms when it comes to touch screens and media consumption. RIM has said it will address this with future handsets, but it needs to show us a roadmap. I also don't expect to see draft designs, but RIM has to commit to several key features, including: 4G LTE; vastly improved cameras and video cameras; seamless media syncing; compatibility with living room gear (TVs, etc.); and much better (and bigger!) displays.
3. Enterprise Focus
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins promised the company would refocus efforts on the enterprise, but he didn't provide specifics. At BlackBerry World, RIM has to give us at least some detail. For example, what is its strategy for winning back enterprise customers? Will it be based on new services, new hardware, products that won't be available to consumers? How does it plan to tackle the BYOD phenomenon? It needs more than Mobile Fusion to turn its enterprise efforts around. Again, I don't expect to see solidified products, but a roadmap would be helpful.
4. Less PlayBook, More BlackBerry
RIM's PlayBook tablet has not been a smashing success. In fact, the company had to drop the price by as much as 60% to convince people to buy the darned thing. Important though PlayBook OS 2.0 may be to RIM's future, the company needs to demonstrate that it is once again taking its smartphone business seriously. RIM can't continue to waste efforts developing for the PlayBook tablet while its business lunch walks out the door.
Customers continue to flee from RIM's BlackBerrys. Instead, they opt for iPhones or Androids. RIM needs to stop the bleeding before it has nothing left to bleed. It needs to show investors, the media, and attendees that it is working as fast as possible to make things right. Though it is in a fairly strong cash position, the company can't rely on its savings account indefinitely.
BlackBerry World is RIM's best (and possibly last) chance to prove that it can still be a contender in the smartphone space.
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