Four years ago Engadget wisely wrote an open letter to Palm, advising them to update their product lines and come up to speed with the rest of the smart phone industry. Enter the Pre, and for a few expectant months it seemed like Palm just might stage a comeback. But then more carriers added Android phones, Apple released the iPhone 3, and Blackberries became more firmly entrenched in their holsters. A lack of consistent products, marketing, or developer support has since relegated Palm to a footnote in the short, but quickly evolving history of the smart phone world. Had they maintained the same consistency they did in the nineties or the same passion they displayed in 2008-2009, we might be looking at a less dualistic OS field today. But it is with Palm in mind that I advocate a similar open letter to RIM.
Sure, their straits aren’t technically as dire as Palm’s, and their presence – neigh, necessity – in the business and international markets is reasonably firm, but RIM has all the hallmarks of being on the verge of losing the critical mass that keeps it in competition with Google and Apple.
Let us begin with history. Much like Palm, RIM was one of the first in its field, and much like Xerox or Kleenex, its name became interchangeable with a commodity, in this case, any slightly-too-bulky but still email-capable device. It reigned for a few years, competing with Palm’s own Treo and a quickly-aging WinMo, and seemed well equipped to enter the second half of the 2000s. Enter the iPhone in 2007. Much like the rest of their products, Apple’s iPhone was not technologically revolutionary – there were smart phones before the iPhone and mp3 players before the iPod and all-in-ones before the iMac – but they did it better and smoother and gorgeous-er than anyone else – especially RIM. And when Android came around in 2008, it seemed like a scrappy Google sideshow rather than a legitimate contender. But Google’s wise move to allow any OEM to carry Android gave them the ability to leap from upstart to incumbent in a matter of three-and-a-half years.
RIM is now faced with a quickly-diminishing user base. It faces attrition from developers who see greater possibilities, profit and glory in iOS and Android. Consider Nokia, also an early smartphone player; Microsoft has taken them to the prom, effectively rescuing them from what would possibly have been Smartphone Purgatory 2013.
And RIM’s chance look dimmer every day. More and more IT managers depend less and less on ‘berry. And the email clients and exchange servers backing iOS Mail and Android GMail are only getting more robust.
I therefore contend that RIM must make the tough decision to drop BlackBerry OS and adopt Android. Blackberries have long been prized for two things: their solid construction and their unparalleled email capabilities. Firstly, switching to Android wouldn’t require any dramatic refiguring of the hardware that isn’talready taking place. And secondly, RIM could simply bundle their email software as a sort of OEM-specific add-on, in much the same way Verizon or Sprint load their crapware on their smartphones.
And so, RIM is faced with a tough choice: destroy the brand, but save the company, or risk losing both. To me, the choice seems obvious. And heck, Blackberry Froyo sounds cute, doesn’t it?