How RIM Changed My Life
During the summer of 1997, I was contacted by the folks at RIM and asked if I would like to be a beta tester of their first Blackberry pager/email device. Up to then, pagers were the darlings of the mobile world but their key function was to send a phone number to the user if needed and then the user would have to find a phone to call them back. Although cellular phones were already on the market, they were still pretty pricey back then and most people who got paged had to find a land line to make any call backs.
However, there was one technology that had already gained a major foothold in business by then and that was email. But the only way people could get their email was to go to their desktop or laptop and log on to see what messages they had. And while consumers were also discovering email via AOL, Compuserve, MCI and a few other consumer services, email had started to become the lingua franca of business. In fact, as an analyst working strictly within the tech industry, all of our clients were heavy email users and by then we were doing most of our communications via email instead of the plain old telephone system. (POTS)
However, for a lot of business professionals, email was a two edged sword. While it was a very productive tool if people were at their desktops or laptops and plugged into the corporate network or connected to their email via dial-up services, it was worthless to any one that was away from their offices or homes. And even if they had their laptops with them on the road, back then we were not assured that we could get a connection to our email from our hotel phones given the sorry state of hotel phone systems then. In fact, I carried with me an acoustic coupler that had alligator clips on them and in more then one hotel around the world I would have to take the cap off the telephone’s wall connection and use the alligator clips to tie into the hotel phones systems to get a dial tone to make a connection since most phones did not have an RJ 11 phone plug on their phones in those days.
So when RIM showed me their first Blackberry and told me that I could have a wireless connection to my email, I jumped at the chance to be a very early tester of their services. And from that day on, my personal world of communications took a major leap forward and to be very honest, my life changed significantly. No longer was I tied to my desktop or laptop to get or respond to email and this was a very liberating experience. More importantly to me was the fact that email had become the lifeline to my clients and it now meant that I could get their messages to me anytime and respond to them in real time very quickly. And from an economic standpoint, this one thing helped my business increase as I became known for my personalized service to the clients and the fact that I was extremely responsive to their needs.
Opening up the world to mobile email was what put RIM on the map and their forethought and innovative thinking has had a dramatic impact on our business world. They pioneered wireless email for broad commercial use and it literally became one of the most important tools any business professional had in their bag of tricks. And because their back-end servers were so secure, it became the standard wireless mobile email device for most government agencies and those in the financial markets and as a result, the fortunes of RIM skyrocketed. Apple and any of the smartphone players today should be very grateful to RIM for this major contribution they made in blazing the trail for what is now smartphones and the many advanced services that have many of their roots in things that RIM did with their original Blackberry.
But it is these roots that should have been their guide when trying to drive the company and the Blackberry devices forward. While they owned the corporate market, their decision to try and make the Blackberry all-things-to-all- people is what really has caused them to be in a most difficult position today. That, and not keeping up with the technology consumers really wanted in a smartphone. By branching out and trying to bring the same features to consumers in the basic form factor that business users loved, they missed the major move to touch based smartphones. Instead they are now playing catch up with the more consumer-focused vendors like Apple and Samsung who understand consumer mentality and designed their products with this as their primary goal.
Even worse for RIM is the fact that while expanding their consumer range of products and putting so much emphasis on marketing to this user segment, they took their eyes off the corporate market they owned. And as a result, thanks to the major bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs being implemented by their corporate customers, consumer centric smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Android smartphones have encroached dramatically on their business territory and in the end, RIM is now losing in both market segments.
RIM’s new CEO pretty much admitted this mistake when he announced last week that they would shift their focus from the consumer market and concentrate on their corporate business. Of course, this is the right thing to do, but it should have been done years ago and at this point in time, I am not really sure this will bring the company back to health. And it is real shame to sit and watch what has been such an important company decline and struggle to even stay afloat given the competitive landscape today.
But for me, RIM will always be one of the most important companies in my own personal technology history. For over a decade, my Blackberry and I were attached at the hip, so-to-speak, and it was my lifeline to my family, friends and clients. And I did not give it up easily. It took a radical new design and approach to make me give up my Blackberry and had not the iPhone come along and completely revolutionized the smartphone market, it would probably still be my sidekick today.
I am not sure what will happen to RIM in the long run, but for many of us techies, RIM will always represent innovation and foresight and the one that introduced us to a new age of mobile and wireless technology. And for that, everyone working in the mobile and wireless world owes them a great deal of gratitude.