I wanted to share some of my thoughts regarding RIM prior to them having their press event next week. I know there are many who have the opinion that RIM has been circling the drain for some time now and have counted out any rebound chances the company has. While I agree that the hills they face are steep, I am not ready to write their obituary yet. These are my reasons why.
The Sheer Size of the Mobile Market
When I give our platforms and ecosystems presentations to industry executives, investors, and at other public forums, the most common question I get when I talk about other platforms than the current dominant ones, is how many platforms can the market sustain. This is an extremely valid question, but it is one that I believe is asked with a backward looking view and not a forward looking view.
If we are using the PC industry as our example, then this question makes the most sense. There was one dominant platform—Microsoft—who owned the vast majority of platform share. If we look at the size of the market as well as where it was during along both the consumer adoption path and market maturity cycle, then we can explain quite a bit about why Microsoft was dominant, but also why at a certain point in time the door was open to other players. But the most relevant point on this topic was that during Microsoft’s dominance the market was both maturing, using Windows and more relevantly the Internet as the standard, but also not that large on a global scale. The market for PCs is in the hundreds of millions (and potentially shrinking) where the market for smartphones is in the billions. With such a large market it is easy to believe that a number of platform players can and will thrive as they carve out specific segments of the market to focus on.
As we are constantly observing, the one size fits all model simply doesn’t stand up in such a large consumer market and personal preference will only become more personal and specific to the end consumer the further down the adoption and maturity process that both smartphones and tablets go.
You Never Forget Your First Love
Our mobile market intelligence data continually points out positive sentiment toward RIM and the BlackBerry devices in particular. For many mobile professionals today, and even more millennials than you would think, they cut their proverbial smartphone teeth on BlackBerry devices. I can’t tell you how many times during our smartphone interview sessions with consumers we hear the words “I sure loved my BlackBerry.” Granted much of this sentiment was founded in the love of the BB keyboard that so many used for heavy text input. I believe we are past the point of the physical keyboard being desirable for the bigger sections of the market and we are yet to see what RIM intends to do with their hardware in this area. That being said, the level of positive sentiment toward BlackBerry devices is one that I do not believe can be discounted as I have a feeling that at the very least it will lead these consumers who share this sentiment to strongly consider BlackBerry’s new devices.
A Focused Opportunity
The opportunity staring RIM in the face is not the general mass market consumer, rather it is the mobile professional. A number of my colleagues in the field of industry analysis disagree with me and think RIM should go after the low end but I disagree. I feel RIM’s potential is the higher end. Many millions of global industry professionals switched to the iPhone from RIMs devices but also many millions still use them today.
Whenever I talk with folks still using RIM devices today, they acknowledge the fact that they are not the most cutting edge devices, but also point out that they are embedded into their workflow. Something that by itself is a key understanding. Just like how many professionals and corporate workplaces have come to standardize, depend, and are extremely comfortable with Windows and Office in their productive workflow. So are many of these same professionals committed and comfortable to RIM. These devices have helped them be successful and many have not changed yet for that very reason. Even though the iPhone and iOS is penetrating the workforce in rapid numbers I still think there is an opportunity for a second platform player focusing on the mobile professional. Android has not caught on largely due to security and Windows Phone is practically non-existent from current CIO surveys I have seen.
If RIM can bring to market a more modern and competitive solution targeting these individuals, I believe they can have a successful business by focusing on value to the high end on the front of hardware, software and services. Keep in mind this market may not be massive like the mass consumer market but I do believe it is lucrative.
Competitive Hardware and Software
This is the big IF. As I stated above targeting the mobile professional is the key but this hardware has to also be appealing from a consumer standpoint because these mobile professionals are also consumers at heart. So the saying goes “if you want to compete in enterprise, you have to compete for the consumers.” Its the BYOD effect in full swing.
RIM must bring competitive hardware to market. This was the root of Palm’s downfall in my opinion. webOS was an extremely competitive platform from an OS standpoint but the hardware was years behind. If RIM makes this mistake they will certainly go the unfortunate way of Palm.
Secondly the software experience must also be competitive and I don’t just mean a plethora of apps. I am becoming increasingly convinced that a solid list of quality applications is more important than a massive quantity of applications. I find every single app store shopping experience today much too cluttered and difficult to make decisions on which app to install or buy. See my thoughts on the paradox of choice for a more clear idea of what happens when we are faced with too many choices.
I’d rather have a much more curated app experience around the core things I do or applications I care about. By focusing on the mobile professional, this becomes a bit easier. Even Apple has begun to do this and smart platforms will take notice. Apple has many app essentials or app starter kits broken out by genre. This can be games, photography, productivity, social networking, etc., but when you look at these genre specific hubs you don’t see hundreds of apps you see dozens. These are highly curated and that is the point.
I am not downplaying the value of long tail applications, but what I am pointing out is that most consumers at best use 10-12 key applications regularly. They may download way more than that but regular use is much lower. This is why I believe that other platforms can come in with a segmented play and get the couple thousand or so most popular apps but then also begin to curate quality genre specific ones to the market segment they are focused on.
Of course for RIM, or any new platform entrant, there is a chicken and the egg scenario. To attract those key applications and keep attracting quality top tier applications, you need to acquire a critical mass. There is no if you build it they will come motto here. There is only if you sell tens of millions they will come motto. This is where the channel comes in and we will certainly see how serious the network operators are about wanting more platform choice.
I look forward to RIM’s event next week and to see whether it will alter my opinion on their future.