Three things BlackBerry has to fix to stay in the game

BlackBerry is soaring ahead in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In July, it disclosed that it had added one-million new subscribers across this region in less than three weeks. This is huge. Balance that out with a net decline in subscribers in its mature North American markets, however, and the outlook isn’t fantastic. Basically, it needs to keep adding more (net) subscribers in emerging markets than ones it’s losing. So far, it’s keeping pace. But the company and platform are undergoing a fundamental transition.

Right now, there are three things RIM needs to get right to ensure BlackBerry remains relevant.

  1. Eco-system, apps and services
    This is one area where a cheque book makes a difference (just ask Microsoft). RIM’s made all the right moves here with all the important apps covered (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc). There’s some innovative stuff (social apps that leverage BBM), but not enough. And there’s no buzz about apps in BlackBerry App World (in many categories it’s a near ghost town). Right now, it can win on localised, relevant apps (and it has made a start). BlackBerry can also win by growing its catalogue (open that cheque book again). Beyond this, it is courting developers in the hope they will either develop natively for the new BBX operating system, port their apps to BlackBerry, or compile their Android apps for BlackBerry. The developer relations execs and staff are making all the right noises. But RIM has to prove to developers there’s a reason to build for this platform. Or at least for BBX (and completely ignore the existing installed base for the next 12 months).

  2. Browser
    This is the most obvious criticism BlackBerry users have of their devices. The on-board browser doesn’t handle the “normal” web that well at all. It hardly handles multimedia. Now RIM is wholly focused on compression (and it’s a great selling point to operators who are trying to manage congested networks), but there’s lots more heavy-lifting on rendering and compression that can be done in the cloud. It’s already doing some of it, why not more? Fix the browser. Or buy a browser that’s better and integrate that.

  3. BBX
    The new version of BlackBerry’s operating system (BBX) was announced at DevCon 2011 in October. It’s a major leap forward and makes BlackBerry 7 (or 6) look dated. But, it needs speed. BBX brings together QNX (the foundation of what RIM used for the PlayBook) with the security and core of the BlackBerry OS. Obviously combining the two isn’t a simple task. RIM isn’t saying when BBX will launch and ship, neither is there a native developer kit available (or even an indication of when it will be out). BlackBerry needs to get BBX right. It needs to get it to market as soon as it can. Every quarter that slips means it’s going to be that much tougher to remain relevant. Or else, it faces a few years of “sunsetting” (think Palm in the early 2000s).

    Yes, I haven’t mentioned the PlayBook. Right now, RIM management need fewer distractions, not more. The jury is out on whether this device will gain any traction in either the enterprise or consumer spaces. By all means continue with development and release a PlayBook 2 (and that updated operating system everyone’s waiting for), but don’t do it at the expense of these three issues facing your core business.



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