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RIM's BBX has all the logic PlayBook should have had

BBX converges BlackBerry and QNX, and beefs up enterprise features

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

BlackBerry suffers massive outages

BBX may recover some of the goodwill towards RIM, but it was launched in the friendly environment of its own developer conference, while in the world at large, sentiment remains primarily sceptical among customers because of the outages, which have compromised its reputation for sheer reliability, and among investors because of a perceived failure to address the plummeting share price with more radical restructuring or even sell-off.

Last week's meltdown of the BlackBerry service went on for three days, first hitting users in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and then moving to north America.

Vodafone latest rumoured suitor for RIM

Collapse of its email service could not have come at a worse time for RIM. Shareholder pressure is now mounting on it to do something, anything, to stop its share price from nose diving. The previous week's rumour of a new suitor for RIM – Vodafone - may have been one of the more fanciful, but the speculation continues to mount along with investor pressure for a radical solution.

The notion that Vodafone might be interested was just realistic enough to be tantalising. Despite all the conflicts of interests with other suppliers – think Google-Motorola writ large – and the poor track record of cellcos in creating their own devices or web platforms, the carriers do continue to dream of a mobile experience they can fully control.

Vodafone, has worked closely with RIM in recent years, injecting resource into the development of the BlackBerry Bold and other products and promoting the devices heavily. It is also one of the most prominent western operators in trying to adopt a Japanese-style approach, where devices are commissioned to order from tame vendors and the mobile user experience is designed and branded by the cellco. However, attempts like Vodafone 360 largely failed and even in Japan, the operators are acknowledging the rise of the vendor-branded smartphone.

Whether or not Vodafone is really interested, Jaguar Financial, which has led the call for the BlackBerry maker to be sold or broken up, claims more investors are coming support its campaign for change. Jaguar has been vocal in demanding that RIM take dramatic actions to reverse its flagging fortunes – change its management structure, seek an acquirer for its IPR or its whole business, and/or break into different divisions. Vic Alboini, Jaguar's CEO, said in an interview that its push was now supported by the owners of 8 per cent of RIM's shares (up from less than 5 per cent last month), and it was working on increasing that figure to 12 per cent. He expects to approach RIM directly with his demands soon.

Among other actions, Jaguar wants a new CEO – a “transformational leader”, no less – to replace Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who controversially share the CEO and chairman posts. Jaguar also wants an independent chair. Other stakeholders, notably Northwest & Ethical Investments, have also called for the top management structure to be changed. But this might be the easy part – for years, RIM was too expensive to attract a buyer, despite persistent rumors and some clear strategic value for certain mobile players. In recent times, though, it is increasingly hard to see which companies would take it on, as its enterprise dominance is eroded.

RIM buys NewBay

Despite all the dark clouds, RIM remains determined to prove it is not giving up, and is pursuing a path towards a modern, cloud-based world. To strengthen QNX (now BBX), it has engaged in an almost manic (perhaps desperate) series of acquisitions to boost its software platform, including the important The Astounding Tribe. The latest is Ireland's NewBay Software, which makes a rapid service delivery platform for carriers. NewBay offers a range of tools for delivering messages, video, calendars and other types of content. Its flagship product, the LifeCache Platform, is designed to help service providers roll out new services and integrate them with their networks and billing systems.

This would see RIM seeking to be more indispensable to carriers, rather than being acquired by one – and that makes sense, since the BlackBerry has flourished partly because it provides a back-end service which drives traffic and smartphone uptake, while being famously efficient with the operator's network resources. NewBay was founded in 2002 and claims AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Deutsche Telekom, US Cellular, Telefonica O2, Orange and Telstra among its customers. RIM did not disclose the price but said the acquisition would not be financially material to the company, though the rumour mill quoted a figure around $100m.

It seems that RIM will use NewBay's LifeCache software as a foundation for future BlackBerry cloud-based content services, which could – like the email back-end – provide a back-up business model should the firm continue to dwindle in actual device sales. RIM's purchases this year have reflected a shift towards multi-platform services and cloud/web solutions.

They included video editing company JayCut, mobile social gaming provider Scoreloop, and tiny-Hippos, developer of the Ripple multi-platform mobile environment emulator. These would be clever choices for a company with a functioning web device strategy, such as Google or Apple – but are just pebbles on a vast beach for a company facing the storms that threaten RIM.

Copyright © 2011, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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