Verhasselt: Research in Motion set to rest in peace?

Heath Verhasselt

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings. I’m hoping at least a few of those names sound familiar, but how about Jim Balsillie, Mike Lazaridis or Thorsten Heins? Yeah, same here. I had no idea who they were until recently, when it came out that Research in Motion, the company that makes BlackBerry smartphones were changing their leadership. RIM was operating with two CEO’s, Balsillie and Lazaridis, who are stepping down while the current COO, Heins, taking their place. Both are staying with the company but are going to play different roles as RIM tries to breath new life into their slowly dying smartphone division.

My opening question was to raise the point that just because you have great leadership doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily create great products, not to mention sell them. As far as tech companies go, we’ve had Bill Gates with Microsoft, which made popular the Windows operating system; Steve Jobs, ¬†with not only making Apple computers successful but doing so twice; Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook; Sergey Brin along with Larry Page and Eric Schmidt with launching Google; Jeff Bezos with his Amazon empire; and, in case you didn’t know, Reed Hastings, the man behind Netflix.

All of these CEOs were successful and are known around the world for their various management tactics and leadership. But if it wasn’t for the successful products and how their companies sold them, they’d have gone on unnoticed by the public eye.

And I think that’s the problem for RIM. BlackBerrys used to be one of the best smartphones you could buy before the “Jesus Phone,” aka the iPhone, came to be. RIM has ended up in the same boat as Microsoft with Windows Mobile, losing marketshare as well as brand recognition to the consumer masses, who are purchasing smartphones at an incredible rate. The difference being Microsoft has stepped up their game as they not only revamped the once-dull-looking Windows Mobile, but they’ve made several partnerships with various phone manufacturers, most notable being HTC and Nokia, which have cranked out some amazing phones.

RIM, however, has been slow to the punch with upgrading not only their phone hardware but their operating system too. Last April, RIM launched the BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet set to compete with the iPad, and although it wasn’t terrible, it was missing basic features users had become acustomed to. It had to be synced to a BlackBerry phone to get to certain apps, which was not only kind of limiting if you didn’t already have a BlackBerry, but extremely short sighted of the RIM development team as they launched a product that was essentially missing apps that were crucial to the device’s success.

RIM has been criticized for its slow response to external market forces as that’s becoming a more crucial characteristic of all technology companies. With it’s upcoming release of BlackBerry OS 10, perhaps some of these shortcomings can be cleared up. The issue with RIM is that they’re stuck in the past.

Yes, people love their BlackBerry phones, and I know I still have a little spot in my heart reserved for the BlackBerry Tour I used to have, but with less developers making apps for the BlackBerry App World, you have to ask, “What gives?”

Drastic changes must be made if RIM wants to remain relevant in the smartphone market. This could be done in several ways, the first being to pull a Microsoft and to focus exclusively on enterprise customers. RIM offers a great lineup of features and services to their enterprise customers and could focus exclusively in that realm as a successful enterprise services firm. Even better would be to team up with Microsoft, and put Windows Mobile on BlackBerry phones, furthering their enterprise-only venture.

The other option would be to abandon the BlackBerry OS and put Android on their phones. It’s a valid option and has apparently been on the minds of RIM developers as BlackBerry PlayBook owners can run a virtual Android OS on their tablet already. Either way, they’re going to do something fas. Maybe their new CEO be able to make the drastic changes to get back into the game.