Five reasons RIM isn’t going anywhere

We’ve all read the “stock crash” headlines, heard the rumours of a Microsoft takeover and seen Jim Balsillie not handling TV interviews very well, but that doesn’t mean this is the beginning of the end for RIM. well, we certainly hope not.

He’s not the only one, but MobileCrunch’s John Biggs writes he believes “it’s over” for Research In Motion. yes, Canada’s own inventor of the BlackBerry, the first major smartphone player and darling of the business world.

I would challenge this assertion, however.

I don’t think RIM is dead, nor do I think they have one foot in the grave. They’re ailing, sure, as the stock plummet indicates that investors are nervous – with some calling for Balsillie to step down. They’re losing momentum to Apple and Android, and their PlayBook tablet, while a much better product today than when it launched in April (thanks to software updates), isn’t making a dent in sales compared to what they forecasted (about 500,000 instead of 2.4 million).

Mismanagement notwithstanding, they do have a number of products and services on the horizon that suggest there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Waterloo, Ont.-based tech giant. Here’s a few to consider:

App floodgates to open: One of the benefits of the iPad is that all the iPhone or iPod touch apps you’ve invested in work just fine on Apple’s tablet. There’s a huge value proposition there. plus, not only are there 90,000-odd apps specifically designed for iPad, but roughly 500,000 downloads in total since most work with iPad, too (not the camera-related ones on the first iPad). RIM’s PlayBook is built on a different platform (QNX) than its BlackBerry OS, therefore none of the apps a BlackBerry user purchased will work on the tablet. this summer, however, RIM announced not only will BlackBerry apps work on the PlayBook but Android apps, too. that is, Android developers could tweak their apps to work on PlayBook. this should help RIM significantly up its app offerings. RIM’s hallmark is security, so they’ve assured users the BlackBerry and Android apps will run in a protected “sandbox” environment.

Native email support coming: I’ve said this was a mistake from the beginning, but RIM initially decided you need a nearby BlackBerry in order to pick up your client email on the PlayBook. that is, a Bluetooth feature called BlackBerry Bridge displays your corporate or ISP (e.g. Bell, Rogers) mail on the tablet when in fact it’s really stored on the BlackBerry. Apparently, this was a security-based decision, so in case you lose your tablet, none of your mail or BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) conversations can be read. well, it seems RIM conceded it was a mistake, as this summer they’ll allow you to read your email on the PlayBook. Arguably it may be too late, but it’s better than not offering it all.

New hardware on the horizon: I recently had a chance to play around with the upcoming Bold 9900 smartphone, a one-piece device with large keyboard and touchscreen. it certainly feels better than the BlackBerry Torch 9800, a product I’m not particularly fond of, and it’ll run the new BlackBerry 7 OS (see below), so this might help RIM get back on track. They aren’t releasing enough hardware, nor is it as compelling as the competition’s sleek-looking and powerful devices, but RIM’s core crowd remains business users and they shouldn’t abandon this key demographic. the 9900 will also have near-field communication (NFC) that makes the smartphone serve as a digital wallet as you simply swipe it at a store or vending machine to purchase items (there are other applications, too). A new 3G/4G PlayBook is coming out soon, too – the existing one is Wi-Fi only, unless you bridge it with a Bluetooth BlackBerry – and QNX-powered smartphones will debut in 2012. once QNX powers both smartphones and tablets, it’ll help unify the apps, too. Hope that won’t be too late.

BlackBerry 7: Unveiled in early May, RIM has a new OS upgrade around the corner, dubbed BlackBerry 7. the BlackBerry Bold 9900 will be the first smartphone to run the software, which promises to make the user experience a lot better than what’s found today on the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and other smartphones. Along with a tweaked user-interface and faster performance, BlackBerry 7 is said to have a much faster web browser with HTML5 video support. You can do voice-activated searches, read maps with compass support, and take advantage of BlackBerry Balance, which allows you segregate your personal and professional lives into separate piles of content. You’ll be able to shoot HD (720p) video, use augmented reality apps and will house a full version of Docs to go with all “premium” features enabled out-of-the-box (for Word, Excel and PowerPoint file support).

Open BES: Finally, RIM announced last month it would open up its Blackberry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange to other smartphone platforms. Consumers might not be familiar with BES (pronounced “bez”), but it delivers push-based access to applications like Microsoft Exchange email, calendar, contacts and scheduling; instant-messaging apps (like Microsoft Office Live Communications Server); and other enterprise-grade apps like customer relationship management software. this is smart because organizations today don’t just support one mobile platform. RIM recognizes they’re not the only game in town anymore and found a way to stay relevant in the workplace with growing Apple, Android and Microsoft hardware.

Even with these promising products on the horizon, it’s not going to be easy for RIM. while I’ll challenge the notion this is “the end” for RIM, they no doubt have their work cut out for them. They’re seeing their market share shrink – not keeping their existing business and consumer customers happy and thus losing them to competing smartphone platforms — which is a painful thing to watch for the company. Today’s younger generation seems to care less about a physical keyboard. there are many alternatives to BBM. RIM doesn’t have the iconic brand that Apple does, nor does it appeal to the open-source crowd like Android does.

As a tech-loving Canadian, I’m optimistic RIM can turn this ship around. Maybe it needs a new captain, sure, and the waters will be rocky for a while, but with more innovation, hardware and a lot of high-quality apps it should be smoother sailing.

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