BlackBerry isn’t dead yet… we should remember that

blackberry rim smartphone market share fallingThe death of the BlackBerry has turned into a long, drawn out saga but RIM is still looking pretty good for a corpse. Is there any way it can win with BlackBerry 10?

Some of the numbers and statistics tell a damning story for RIM and its BlackBerry brand, but do they tell the whole story? As the saying goes, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” CEO Thorsten Heins recently fought back against the tidal wave of negative reporting on his company in an editorial in The Globe and Mail. Considering that the death of the BlackBerry has been a popular theme for at least a couple of years now, maybe he has a point.

Fall from grace

Back in 2008 RIM had a share price of $149.90. Today the RIM share price is $7.88. Their market share peaked the following year in 2009 with 20 percent of the global mobile market and around 50 percent of the smartphone market. According to IDC, RIM’s smartphone market share in the first three months of 2012 was just 6.4 percent.

A slide from 50 to 6.4 percent  in four years looks pretty disastrous, and in many ways it’s been horrible. There’s no arguing that RIM is nowhere near the company it once was. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the show’s over. In the first quarter of 2009 Gartner reported global smartphone sales of 36.4 million units; in the first quarter of 2012 that figure reached 144.4 million units. It’s a big and growing market. RIM sold nearly 10 million handsets in that first quarter of 2012 compared to 7.8 million handsets sold back in 2009. Heins claims a global subscriber base of 78 million people. Though BlackBerry’s market share has definitely declined, they are still impressive. Still, there’s no denying that the trends aren’t good for BlackBerry.

Negative feedback loop

Heins didn’t pull any punches in his editorial, particularly when it came to the press, “it’s become fashionable for pundits and market watchers to alternately eulogize Research In Motion as a fallen pioneer and demonize management for not chopping up the company to sell for parts.”

This is true, though we’ve been cautiously optimistic about RIM in the past, I’ve criticized RIM myself. After a while, there’s a risk that all the negativity could start to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we in the media keep saying that the BlackBerry brand is failing then the idea slowly gains ground, eventually becoming reality.

We can’t skip over the failure to innovate, the lackluster releases, the service failures, and the lagging app market; we can’t ignore RIM’s refusal to adapt to the changing face of the market and the importance of touchscreens, apps, and the bring -your-own-device to work trend; but we must admit that, despite all of this, the continued perception of RIM’s inevitable death may now be the cause of it.

RIM can’t win

As a long term critic of RIM, I’ve always based my disdain of the BlackBerry range on the fact that the phones are comparably underpowered; I don’t like the physical design; the software is poor; and the corporate image is off-putting. With the news about the delay of BB 10 though, I’m actually starting to feel sorry for it. It’s a real lose-lose situation. If RIM releases the software too early then it’s surely game over. If it take its time and release it too late then…. it’s too late.

RIM is finally heading in the right direction. Sure, BB 10 isn’t ready yet, but that’s why it was delayed. A BB platform that can run Android apps and games is a great idea. Software to help IT managers control BB, Android, and iOS devices is smart. Embracing HTML5 makes sense. There is still something obviously lacking though: the hardware.

What about the hardware?

rim blackberry curve 9310 review  alternateMy healthy skepticism about a RIM recovery is largely based on the hardware. I believe there is a market out there for handsets with physical keyboards, but it’s not me. I also think that keyboard market is probably shrinking, although there are a few BB clones on Android now as well. More important than the old-fashioned keyboard, is the specs.

Will the new range be comparable with the latest Android releases and the iPhone 5? Previous attempts at a touchscreen device have simply been poor when held up against the competition. The new BlackBerry needs to have a decent touchscreen, a fast processor, plenty of storage, and all of the standard extras. If RIM releases a touchscreen device that has comparable hardware to the market leaders then it has a chance and can continue to please physical keyboard fans with an additional QWERTY device.

Alternatively, RIM could recast the BlackBerry brand as a budget option. Low prices and BBM have won RIM a surprising youth following in the UK, but Heins hasn’t hinted that he’s heading down this path. He seems intent on recapturing North America and competing at the premium end of the market.

It’s all about perception

What’s most likely to sink RIM is the perception that it’s already dead. Chris Umiastowski made a great point in a CrackBerry editorial when he mentioned Microsoft. Despite repeated failures in the mobile space, there are still industry pundits predicting a huge market share for Microsoft in the next few years. Deep pockets don’t guarantee success, but then repeated failure doesn’t preclude it either.

There’s no reason that RIM can’t succeed. Assuming it gets a working BB 10 out the door before it runs out of money, customers are out there. It’s not likely that BlackBerry will challenge Android or iOS for supremacy, but it doesn’t need to be number one. If it can persuade existing subscribers to upgrade to BB 10 devices and welcome back some of its old customers then it could have a very healthy business.

I’m not willing to bet a penny on RIM succeeding, but stranger things have definitely happened.