The departure of Research In Motion co-CEOs Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie was, as amply noted by just about everyone, long overdue. Given the shipwreck that RIM has become, it’s understandable, but more than a little sad, that the coverage has paid so little attention to what Mike, Jim, and RIM accomplished during their glory years.
More than any other company, RIM mobilized business, first by offering the first truly practical two-way messaging device, then by providing enterprises a reliable and secure way to get messaging onto mobile devices.
In my years of reviewing gadgets, the original BlackBerry 850–a two-way pager–was one of the few that I fell in love with at first sight. The concept of a two-way pager was not new; there were products on the market from Motorola and others. But the original 1999 BlackBerry had a keyboard you could actually use to type a message, a keyboard unsurprisingly similar to the ones found on current BlackBerry models. And RIM offered a straightforward way to get mail from a Microsoft Exchange server to the BlackBerry.
That service evolved into the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, a powerful tool for companies to move mail, secure Web browsing, custom apps, and instant messaging onto mobile devices. Security was built in from the beginning, so BlackBerry’s developed a massive following in government and in the heavily regulated finance and health care industries and made RIM a massive success in the last decade.
The recent sins of RIM’s management are large. They failed to respond adequately to the iPhone, the app revolution, and the consumerization of mobile. Microsoft’s steady improvements to Exchange ActiveSync gradually ate into BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s advantages, and Apple’s quiet work with Microsoft to enable secure Exchange mail on the iPhone allowed iPhones to displace BlackBerrys.
But while it is easy to blame Jim and Mike for their failings, we should not forget their accomplishments. They played a huge part in making the mobile industry what it is today.