The BlackBerry Death Spiral

on November 21, 2012
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“Notice of Intent to Sole Source iPhone Devices.” That dry headline, from a National Transportation Safety Board post on the Federal Business Opportunities web site, is news about as grim as it can get for Research in Motion. Though the launch of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones the company is counting on for salvation is just over two months away, it may well be too late. Enterprise customers, long the backbone of RIM’s business, are abandoning the platform and without them, RIM has little hope of survival.

The NTSB. like many U.S. government agencies, has long depended on BlackBerrys for secure mobile communications. But they are beginning to fall away. Among others, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and two Homeland Security agencies, Customs & Immigration Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives have announced plans to move to the iPhone.

BlackBerry’s advantages have long been security and reliability and, indeed, RIM recently announced that it had won FIPS 140-2 security certification for the BlackBerry 10 platform.  But other devices, notably the iPhone, now also offer government-ready security solutions. As for reliability, NTSB says in its document justifying a sole source Verizon Wireless/Apple deal:

 This requirement is for the acquisition of Apple iPhone 5 devices. These Apple devices will replace the NTSB’s existing blackberry devices, which have been failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate. The NTSB requires effective, reliable and stable communication capabilities to carry-out its primary investigative mission and to ensure employee safety in remote locations.

If that’s the way its staunchest customers feel, RIM’s BlackBerry 10, no matter how fabulous, is doomed.