RIM Never Learns, Shoots Self in Foot Again

Watching (and caring at all) about RIM is an exercise in frustration and futility. Here is a company who can’t learn from their own mistakes nor anyone else’s. For anyone who cares about the article that got me going, I’m going to link over to Ronen Halevy over at BerryReview.com.

If you haven’t heard, RIM announced a new operating system a week or so ago called BBX. BBX is the love child of QNX, which they are currently using in their PlayBook tablets, and the BlackBerry OS which runs on all their smartphones. BBX development can include either HTML5 development (called WebWorks) or Native C/C++. Both of these are now available for the PlayBook as well so anything written for the PlayBook will also run on the new smartphones.

Let’s start with problem number 1: What about apps previously written for BlackBerry OS? Even though BBX is partially the spawn of BlackBerry OS, nothing written in Java (almost all apps) for RIM’s previous OS will run under BBX. In reality this means almost the entire collection of apps currently available for sale for BlackBerry devices will not run on upcoming devices.

Which leads me to problem number 2: Those devices are shipping when? According to this Pocket Lint summary of the BBX announcement, sometime in 2012. Sometime. So RIM just announced a new OS that won’t run much of its previous software for an unknown device that will ship sometime in the next 15 months.

Do you see any problems with this?

There is a long and bloody history of companies who have screwed this transition up and RIM is following the playbook (no pun intended). A few points of why RIM’s approach is so wrong:

1. Nokia has gone from almost 70% market share to low-teens in less than a year because they cancelled a platform before they had another. RIM just pulled the same stunt. Why oh why would I bother continuing to write, support or develop for the BlackBerry?

2. If I am in IT I just heard that the huge investment I made in RIM over the years is no longer applicable, and RIM left me no recourse. The choice between staying with RIM or switching to iOS or Android are even par. There is no switching cost now.

3. Palm, who at least made it possible to run Palm OS apps, also tried to transition and failed. Why? Partly because they couldn’t get and keep developers interested. My choice as a developer: write for RIM’s BBX, with almost 0 devices sold or write for Android, iOS or Windows Phone, which have millions of devices sold? No brainer.

4. Two companies made technology transitions recently and did it very well: iOS and Android. Developing for smartphones and developing for tablets are two very different things. With the iOS example, they made it simple to run your existing iPhone apps on an iPad, in either a 1x or 2x mode. Perfect! Hundreds of millions of apps on Day 1. But the experience was clearly inferior and millions of apps were upgraded quickly. On top of that, Apple made it really easy to support both platforms at the same time so I could re-use a lot of code. And finally they included a bunch of developers before-hand to ensure that many apps supported iPad out of the gate and then relentlessly featured those developers. RIM did none of this.

RIM: I have given you guys the benefit of the doubt for a long time, even as your market share has shrunk. I thought, there are a bunch of smart people in Waterloo and thought they are going to get this transition right. I no longer have faith in your ability to pull this off. Unless something amazing is happening behind the scenes we will be talking about RIM along with Symbian and Palm, systems that could have been major players but are now left in the dust of history.

For better or worse, so far, my predictions of platform dominance are coming true. Smartphones look to be an Android, iOS, Windows Phone world. The remaining question may be market share.

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