Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) has "a lot of storytelling to do," explained Alec Saunders, RIM's new vice present of developer relations and ecosystems development, in comments here at the company's BlackBerry developer conference. And Saunders is partly right: RIM has been largely unable to sell itself as a growth story.
Saunders, who just weeks ago agreed to replace Tyler Lessard as the head of RIM's developer relations, said he discovered on joining the company that the perception of RIM doesn't match the company's current situation or growth prospects, and thus he is going to work to rejuvenate RIM's image in the market. He said RIM now counts 70 million BlackBerry users worldwide, up from 50 million a year ago. And the company recently launched a line of BlackBerry 7 devices that feature the company's refreshed operating system -- a launch RIM has described as its "largest and most successful global launch of BlackBerry smartphones in our history."
"BlackBerry is here; it's not going away," said Saunders, who previously worked at Microsoft and QNX Software Systems before starting a company called iotum. "We have a compelling go-forward story."
It's true that RIM largely has been unable to generate excitement around its products, or at least the kind of excitement associated with Android and iOS products. And RIM's smartphone market share in the United States has been on the decline, according to comScore -- the firm's numbers show RIM's share has fallen from around 40 percent 12 months ago to around 20 percent today.
However, comScore's numbers also show the overall U.S. smartphone market is growing by leaps and bounds, so while RIM's share of the market may be declining, the company's smartphone shipments continue to grow (albeit at a slower pace than in the past). And RIM continues to enjoy significant successes in some international markets, including in Europe and Latin America.
Saunders described RIM's mindshare problem as a "self-fulfilling prophesy: "If users begin to think of the company as a has-been, RIM's sales will suffer as a result. It's a cycle that won't easily be broken."
And that's why Saunders took to the stage here during RIM's keynote presentation to dispel some "urban myths" about BlackBerry. He said that developers are making money with BlackBerry, contrary to some criticisms of the platform. He also said the number of BlackBerry users is growing, again contrary to some perceptions.
While it's true that RIM isn't yet a part of smartphone history, the company desperately needs to light a fire under its brand and its products. It's a tall order that requires focus and resolve, and RIM isn't helping its cause by putting so much emphasis on its forthcoming BBX platform. BBX is based on RIM's QNX software and will power all of its future smartphones and tablets. But BBX won't be out until next year, and by hyping BBX this year, RIM is basically telling smartphone shoppers not to purchase its BlackBerry 7 lineup of devices. (Indeed, native BlackBerry apps designed for RIM's current BlackBerry 7 products won't work on the company's BBX platform.)
So far, RIM hasn't said much about what BBX will offer. It will be able to run some Android apps and it will make use of a new feature RIM calls Cascades. Cascades is a new application development function RIM is making available to developers and supports 3D interface animations. Cascades already powers the picture and calculator applications on RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.
Cascades does look nice, I guess, but I hope that's only a tiny part of RIM's BBX plans. The company will need to bring far more than nice 3D animations to the table in order to stay competitive in the white-hot smartphone market. RIM needs to think on the scale of Apple's Siri or Google's NFC-powered Wallet service and not in terms of reliable email.
By hyping BBX so far in advance of the platform's commercial release, RIM may have inadvertently set expectations for BBX too high. The company will have to knock it out of the park when BBX drops next year.
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