Why RIM is Not Apple

Until the recent addition of several contenders, us BlackBerry fans have almost always seen the smartphone fight as being that of Apple versus BlackBerry. Today the BBE Staff was right on top of the Boy Genius Report publishing an open letter to RIM sent to them by a verified RIM employee. This employee was clearly upset with the way things have been going over the past year or so over at headquarters. As an active member of ther community I know we have all been discussing this among ourselves for what seems like an eternity now, and yet we have nothing to show for it.

This author, however, finds it really strange how most people still continue to put Apple on top and every other smartphone below the mobile giant. Stumbling on an interestingly “timed” article this morning it got me thinking – RIM is almost exactly like Apple in terms of corporate woe, yet they are almost nothing alike in the mobile space.

Why do I say this? Well the article I found referenced one moment in time not a lot of people really admit know existed.

History 101

Rewind to 1984 and the introduction of the first Macintosh computer. The unit debut with the famous “Apple 1984” commercial that blew everyone away, yet the Macintosh only sold 50,000 units after almost 3 months. Considering the time and place – that was still pretty significant, but not where they wanted to be. Jobs contended that software was the future of their platform; the only way to sell more was to offer more. Steve Jobs was later fired in 1985 and never heard from until resurgence in 1996 when he rejoined Apple upon trying to save his brand from the jaws of death.

Jobs then went ahead and in a handful of years reinvented the wheel, yet failed to make his presence felt among all the chaos that was the computing world – even after successfully re-branding the Macintosh to iMac and proliferating a base of software support for this archaic brand. So he thought ahead – spring forward into the mobile age. He didn’t think similarly, he thought ahead. Progressivism had never been Apple’s strong suit, but it had always been Jobs’ point of emphasis. He certainly made it count.

This was nothing RIM had not already conquered. In 2004, upon the debut of the Apple iPhone, no one really made much of this new way to innovate. That is until they world over tried copying this feat and that is when Apple made it from grave back into the cradle. A phone that is not only simple to use, it is simple to sell. After pushing out the line of iPods in the early 2000’s the iPhone literally sold it self; being marketed like an iPod that makes phone calls.

Where RIM Has Failed

Understandably so, every company tries to replicate the successes of their rivals. Unfortunately for RIM they didn’t have a “rival” until 4 years later – enter the BlackBerry Storm. This product was it. Before Android even had a chance at competing, RIM had the opportunity to “tip the sign” and smash the ball out of the park. Innovation and function were key, yet most early reviews slated the Storm as a wild translation of what the smartphone should be. Radical has never won RIM favor, so this move was completely out of character for a company that had started out in the business of personal messaging devices.

So now we are presented with the question, did RIM fail because of the quality and integrity of the Storm? The answer is simply no. RIM failed because they did not put any confidence behind the product. Not only did they ship roughly 10 devices to each Verizon retailer and Verizon 3rd party retailer in the US, they significantly limited their carrier distribution thereafter. It became a crap shoot, whether or not the devices would sell seemed almost immaterial to RIM and support for the device soon died out. Yet they made a sequel to the Storm and continued to smother its success in almost the same exact way.

RIM did not die because they could not compete with Apple, it was because they lack the confidence, support, and know-how of creating a stable device and backing it up 100%. Shortly after the Storm launched we stopped seeing commercials and almost all-together forgot that the device even existed. Now it’s become more of a faux pas to own anything outside of an iPhone and I’m often posed the question, “Is that the Storm?!” Mind you I wouldn’t mind if the question asked wasn’t backed with a tone as to suggest it is the most absurd thing they’ve ever seen – a Storm 2 still out in the open.

I Can Haz BlackApple?!

This is what the execs at RIM have to realize: RIM is NOT Apple. The only parallel they maintain is the fact that they have both struggled at one point in time. Unfortunately for RIM that time is now, when it is all the more difficult to reestablish yourself and ask your customers for forgiveness.

RIM hasn’t lost all hope though. They are still making headway in the realm of business (although it is arguable they could be losing ground there very soon). What they have to do is really put on the brakes and do as most of their critics have suggested – and I will re-emphasize: Stick to what you know and what you do best. RIM had years to innovate before Apple entered the fray. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure all of us say that if we could rewrite history we would’ve invented the iPod (FYI – the first MP3 player was not made by Apple…let’s just say they made it “better”). But it’s sad to admit that it took RIM almost 5 years to add a functioning and native media player onto their phones. Not only that but some of us are still using the OS 5 Java browser…

Apple is a newbie to innovation scene. Ironically this was a scene once occupied by companies that will echo a name throughout history similar to that of the nearly extinct Kiwi of New Zealand. What RIM has to do is stop playing “we do it better” and start playing “we did it first”. Let’s face the facts here – they have shown they can’t do it better so who are we going to believe. Stick to your guns, exude a bit of charisma and trust in your company and your product and the users will follow in tow. There is no punch, no magic, no wizardry…just keen business sense and a willingness to admit when you’ve made a mistake – but rectify it almost immediately. Simplicity is key, we love the option of having a phone for every type of person – but do we really need it? Give us a phone we can all grow to like and we will like it – am I saying something out of the ordinary? Tell me how many versions of the iPhone are there? If people want a physical keyboard they can go grab one…the iPhone is not for them. See my point?

Jobs has always been about software and developer infrastructure since the 80’s. He had the foresight to understand how the end-user wants their device to work, not the other way around. It’s time for RIM to realize the truth and live with it because as we all know from our rehab programs – the first step to knowing you have a problem is to admit that your problem exists. Maybe Tony Robbins can resurrect his career with a Corporate Coaching position over in Waterloo…12 Steps to success?

Step 2: Trim the Fat

Dual corporate structures have never worked. We have seen Motorola try it and fail miserably, thus establishing two separate entities with two different business models. In this authors opinion it’s time for RIM to wise up and stop trying to save face by saying they are justified in keeping the dual CEO structure. Learn from history and you will avoid making the same costly mistakes as others have before you. Don’t reinvent the wheel, make it more efficient – my tires save me gas now…in the 1990’s did we ever think we’d hear of a tire that can save you up to $400 of fuel each year? I sure as hell didn’t.

Once the execs at RIM finally realize their mortality (hopefully not to the extent of Xerces’ fall from grace), they can turn their sights on something much greater than just producing devices for the sake of meeting a timeline. Until then, I am afraid this brand may continue down the road to perdition.