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RIM is really in trouble when even Windows Phone 8 looks great

Once-plump BlackBerry now just a smear of gunge

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Opinion RIM has seen its once dominant market position in corporate mobile plummet from a great height in the last couple of years.

The Canadian giant has suffered a huge fall in stock price and, more importantly, penetration - currently around eight per cent market share - with continual declines, quarter upon quarter.

So there is a high degree of importance over the pending launch in Q1 2013 of the first generation BlackBerry 10 devices.  BlackBerry 10 has long been touted as the next big thing from RIM, but will it be enough to arrest the decline of the last 5 years? Or will the problems they’ve suffered the last year with very embarrassing service outages, a tablet product that was an undeniable flop commercially and the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) to work programmes finally bring to an end this once unassailable organisation?

BlackBerry really brought corporate email and calendaring to the mainstream and was responsible for the birth of wide scale mobility for corporate employees. It was secure, it worked well (though let’s not talk about calendar synchronisation), and had a proper qwerty keyboard that enabled you to type mails without embarrassing typos to your boss, all on a small mobile device. It provided predictable mobile and data cost plans from a CFO's point of view, removing the spiralling uncertainty of other mobile service offerings.

Over the last two years with the rise of BYOD programmes, more organisations are opening up user device choice for mobile phones (though not for computers, we’ll cover that another day). We’ve seen many corporates move from BlackBerry onto mobile device management (MDM) systems such as Good's technology, which can provide secure, controlled and audited mail, calendaring and intranet services on a wider portfolio of devices. BlackBerry, once innovative and cool, is now a much maligned device and is no longer en vogue, and doesn’t provide well integrated services or the user experience of Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Mobile phone technology is still in the main a disposable technology rather than a strategic long-term platform choice of something like an organisation's CRM platform. Every two years or so we dispose of these older devices, and move onto the fashion item of the moment. Apple's iPhone has transformed the user experience of mobile devices, initiating the wide-scale improvements we’ve seen in user interfaces and provided a benchmark for ease of use. BB10 has a tough act to follow as it looks to improve on previous incarnations and meet the expectations of its once adoring user base.

With a market increasingly driven by the cool factor and demanding constant innovation though, BlackBerry-maker RIM needs to address the perception that in the last few years it has really failed to deliver in either of these two areas with any real success.

What is going to stop the rot?

With the increasing rise and domination of Android in the wider mobile phone sector, Apple establishing itself as the premium brand product of choice, and Microsoft finally developing a corporate integrated and secure Windows phone platform that users doesn’t want to torch - Windows Mobile 6, anyone? - what is it going to take to stop the rot for the BlackBerry brand?

RIM’s unique selling points are no longer unique. The network providers now provide good data tariffs at fixed prices, and importantly at very affordable prices. It’s possible to provide a compliant secure corporate experience via an MDM product, and the mobility space is fast moving onto data sharing across multiple devices, integrating into corporate application delivery ecosystems.

RIM really can only rely on some really compelling corporate integration features, and must open up its technology stack to manage and secure rival mobile devices and probably offer its own gear at an extremely low price to be able to maintain any level of corporate adoption. RIM has got to find ways to get developers to bolster the platform's application portfolios considerably (currently about 60,000 apps – a long way short of iOS, Android or even Windows mobile) or the long-term sustainability of RIM lies in the balance.

It appears RIM has a long way to go to turn around the oil tanker - just look how long it’s taken Nokia to get to the bottom of the curve - so let’s hope (for RIM's sake) that BB10 offers some inspiration for the world at large to remain with the BlackBerry brand.

Right now, if you’re reviewing your approach to corporate-provided devices and, like most, you’re a Microsoft house then Windows Phone 8 looks like a very interesting proposition indeed. For wider corporate choice, BYOD still remains the fruit fly feasting on the remains of the once ripe and plump BlackBerry. ®

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