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RIM's New CEO: 5 Takeaways

Ian Paul | Jan. 24, 2012
Research in Motion announced late Sunday the appointment of a new CEO as the BlackBerry maker struggles to regain relevance in a smartphone world increasingly dominated by iPhones and Android devices.

"At the very core of RIM ... is the innovation ... we always think ahead, we always think forward. We sometimes think the unthinkable, and that is fantastic."

Well, Heins certainly understands the cheerleading aspect of his work. But I think it's fair to say that RIM has been doing everything but thinking ahead and forward since about 2007 when the first iPhone shipped. For the past five years, RIM has tried to come to grips with a market that is casting aside the classic physical keyboard-centric smartphone for touchscreen devices with easy-to-use touch interfaces.

Modern smartphones can play movies and TV shows on beautiful 3.5- to 5-inch screens, store and play thousands of songs, browse the web with relative ease, play tons of games, and have a wide range of native apps.

RIM has tried to answer this new trend with recent devices such as the Torch 9850, but the handset ended up receiving lukewarm reviews. Engadget, for example, dinged the 9850 for running the BlackBerry 7 OS, calling RIM's latest OS refresh "dated, tired, and ready to retire." When PCWorld first looked at BlackBerry 7 OS, my colleague Ginny Mies said the new software didn't "feel modern' and BlackBerry was "in dire need of a face-lift."

"Sometimes we innovate too much while we are building a product. So I want to spend more time on prototyping, on exploring, on research and development, while we are building product on a separate stream."

Sounds sensible enough, and if the rumors are correct this may have been part of RIM's problem with the initial launch of the PlayBook. The company's tablet launched without BlackBerry's best-known features such as BlackBerry Messenger and a native e-mail client, for which RIM was heavily criticized.

In June, a report came out that claimed RIM was having a hard time putting native e-mail on the PlayBook, because the tablet's QNX-based software required a massive rebuilding of RIM's e-mail system, according to Business Insider. Accurate or not, if RIM had left the PlayBook in the prototype phase a little longer perhaps the tablet's first few months on store shelves would not have been such a disaster.

RIM has since announced that PlayBook 2.0 will ship in February featuring native e-mail, but without BBM.

"Our enterprise customers mean a lot to us ... that's a very strong fortress that we own, we want to keep owning this and innovating that fortress."

It's great that RIM is so confident about its enterprise business, but a fortress, really? Fortresses are meant for defending, while innovation is an offensive move. Besides, whenever I hear fortress, I think Alamo. Is that the message a new CEO should be sending?


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