Thursday 1 December 2011

How I Would Turn Around RIM

Over recent times I've seen one of my favourite technology companies slip from a position of smartphone leadership to the whipping boy of the technology and business press. While I am a user of Apple products, I own and have owned, a number of BlackBerry smartphones and now a BlackBerry Playbook, which I am actually using to type this post. In recent times it has become harder to recommend people buy RIM products. Management seem to have lost their vision and their ability to execute on any kind of strategy and the technology being developed is either horribly delayed, buggy or both. So, here's what I would do to fix RIM.

1. License iTunes DRM.
While this would be expensive it would be worth pursuing. Considering the lockin Apple gets from its vertical ecosystem this would help users transition to new platforms and still bring the content they paid for with them. This may require an anti-trust case through the courts initially as i would expect Apple to turn down any initial licensing offers but it would be worth it.

2. Ensure applications are available in their entirety worldwide.
Applications such as the podcast application which works in North America but doesn't let you subscribe to podcasts in the UK. It's a letdown for users and tarnishes the brand when applications that are advertised on the BlackBerry website either are not available or, even worse, are so badly crippled they are virtually useless. This should never happen and should be resolved.

3. Fix usability on the PlayBook.
The PlayBook is a beautiful device and really should be the iPads number one competitor but it's not because those in charge at RIM messed up the execution. Im not even talking about the lack of email client here. I'm thinking about areas such as the keyboard which is nice to use but lacks much of the usability that even the Torch has and seems to have issues picking up keystrokes when typing quickly. It also performs differently across various apps with the browser keyboard behaving very differently to the word processors. A disjointed mess that needs fixed.

4. Limit the range to handsets available to 3 BBOS phones: Bold, Curve and Torch.
There are too many devices and variations of devices coming out of Waterloo. It has become painfully obvious that RIM is not capable of designing, building, testing and then mass producing this variety of form factors and hardware configurations. With that in mind it's time to reduce the range to three: Bold with touch screen and keyboard for the executives and image conscious; Curve with touch screen and keyboard for the ordinary enterprise employee and the consumer looking for low cost, desirable handsets such as Teenagers; and Torch for those who like the 100% touch screen form factor and would be the only platform running BBX. No four digit numbers and GSM and CDMA handsets are named exactly the same, no more XX30.

5. Break the browser and in particular the App World dependency on the BIS/NOC.
The browser should not be routing data through BIS or anything else. It may reduce traffic but it slows performance and reduces quality. I would allow BES to configure enterprise BlackBerrys to do this if they wished for an extra, small, fee. App World should be able to connect over WiFi. If someone has a BlackBerry lying in a drawer I want them to be able to turn it on, browse the store, buy apps and become acquainted with the device again without ever needing a SIM. A quick and easy way to help people get back onto the platform if they happen to stray.

6. Active Sync on PlayBook along with Bridge.
Keep BlackBerry Bridge in the PlayBook to give enterprise that secure access to email, contacts and calendar from a corporate handset. This also gives consumers the benefit of bring your own device while staying in the BlackBerry ecosystem. Buy a PlayBook and use it for work but then turn off the Bridge and use it for play. Adding ActivSync to the platform gives the PlayBook its consumer features and allows users access to their personal PIM services, a feature the device sorely lacks at the moment.

7. Invest in app devs to ensure they port apps to the platform.
I would have thought that this one should be a given but apparently it's not. The top 100 applications across the Apple, Android and Windows App Stores should be identified and the developers paid by the company to port their applications to the BlackBerry platform. They should also be provided with free support and devices to ensure the transition is as smooth and easy as possible. These sqme developers should be worked with directly in order to determine how best the development tools can be changed and developed to make the process faster, easier, cheaper and more efficient. Users should also be asked through social media for the applications they miss and would want to see and the most popular of these should be ported.

8. Turn BBX phones into a consumer device and limit to one forked handset with ActivSync.
As mentioned above the range of BlackBerrys on the market is going to be greatly reduced to minimise hardware complexity and make the manufacturing process more efficient and more manageable over the near and medium terms. With that in mind the BBX platform is going to be aimed solely at the consumer market. As such it will support ActivSync for email, contacts and calendar rather than the traditional BIS/BES. BBM must be in place but will be integrated into an architecture that does not require a BlackBerry account and can operate with and without a SIM card. Media player will be enhanced and will include the Amazon marketplace, a Kindle app with the ability to buy books and magazines directly from the app and finally the capability of playing iTunes Music, Movies and TV Shows via the DRM deal in point one. Clients for Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Windows Messenger, Google Chat, Google+ and Yahoo should be available and be native. Development for all of these will be given the same high priority support as the apps in point seven. Finally tighter integration between the PlayBook and BBX phones should include easy file sharing, tethering, user accounts on the PlayBook linked to individual handset PINs and a settings transfer function that moves application states between the PlayBook and the handset using Bridge technology so you can play a game or application on the PlayBook and pick up from the exact same spot on the handset.

So thats some of the parts of my vision to transform RIM into the industry leader it was and should still be. I may outline some more ideas going forward and I haven't touched on advertising, office layout, decision making and overall corporate hierarchy but please give me your thoughts so far. If Jim and Mike could even execute half of these then RIM could be on a solid foundation for building and moving forward but I don't think they will. If anyone at RIM wants to contact me please feel free to use my email (contact at 22hundred dot net), Twitter (mikemcconville) or LinkedIn and I'd be more than happy to talk.

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