With its stock in freefall, investor confidence in shambles and a device lineup that looks increasingly aged, the one potential saviour for RIM's fortunes, BlackBerry 10, has been delayed yet again until Q1 2013. For a company looking to turn things around, a delay like this is just inexcusable.
RIM executives would be loath to hear this, but in my humble opinion, there is no way something like this happens if the late Steve Jobs, or a taskmaster like him, is in charge. Jobs was renowned for stoking fear in employees, which had more to do with demanding results on a timetable than to filling a massive ego.
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins seems like a man who understands the mess he's inherited, except that recent interviews suggest he was either in denial or shrewdly projecting heat onto himself to take pressure off others. Either way, what is it that has delayed BB10 from the "second half of 2012" to "early 2013"?
Heins' assertions that "there's nothing wrong" with RIM seems like an absurd notion devoid of any credible evidence to support it. In fairness, his comment was about the company "as it is today" and not the one he took over six months ago. He added that the entire company is "focused" on BlackBerry 10, and that it takes time to build a whole new computing platform.
True, we may not know what the company's engineers are up to behind closed doors, but where is the sense of urgency? In fact, it would've been better if Heins had actually said nothing at all, and instead deployed his minions to at least paint a picture of what BB10 will be and why it's been delayed again.
But he went further and even wrote an Op-Ed in the Globe and Mail where he exhorted readers not to count BlackBerry out. In the piece, Heins comes off as lucid and positive, which he naturally has to be, but the underlying message appears to be that not only will RIM try to get back on its feet and compete on an even keel, but that it will also make people rethink how they interact with devices.
This is perhaps the most interesting element of what he's been talking about recently. Not only will BlackBerry 10 actually resemble a modern operating system and ecosystem, but it will also be a game-changer? Well, what if it isn't? And how does Heins know that competitors like Apple, Samsung and Microsoft won't come up with their own game-changing ideas in between? Will RIM then delay things again to address those?
Despite acknowledging that RIM didn't position itself well in the rapid evolution of smartphones, Heins implies that the company can be a major player again if it makes one bold strike to leapfrog the competition and come back with something so extraordinary, it will make the BlackBerry "cool" and change people's lives.
That makes for a wonderful storybook fable, but the chances of this scenario coming to pass seem implausible, if not onerous. ‘Extraordinary' is exactly what RIM will have to come out with to even stand a chance of being relevant in North America. Market share may be strong in some overseas markets, and the company isn't in debt, but losing the U.S. and Canada will be lethal.
Nokia delayed its own Maemo operating system for so long that it ended up scrapping it to partner with Microsoft. Many pundits have speculated of a similar type of arrangement between RIM and another major company, though these rumours, along with takeover and merger theories, are unlikely to happen. Shedding 5,000 jobs and committing so many resources to BB10 development should make clear that RIM will execute its turnaround plan, for better or worse.
It's a different time, but this situation, at least in part, harkens back to 1999-2001, when Apple shares went from $42 to $100 and then tumbled back down to $17. The company had been written off as a fringe player at the time, but the rest, as they say, is history. Jobs executed a plan that reinvented existing industries, and the record profits have been rolling into Apple's coffers ever since.
It seems RIM will need that kind of vision and execution to make one of the biggest comebacks we'll ever see.
In Photo: Thorsten Heins, CEO, Research In Motion (RIM)