Lance Armstrong’s public image and Research in Motion’s stock prices have been on a similar trajectory over the past year.
Both death-spirals were can’t-look-away train wrecks full of denial, drama, and shamelessness. Armstrong tried to laugh off a thousand pages of evidence and twenty-six damning, eye-witness testimonies with nothing more than false bravado.
Ever the warrior, RIM’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, put his game-face on and told users to ignore staggering quarterly losses and a 90% fall in the company’s market share over the past three years. Shortly thereafter, BlackBerry unveiled an advertising campaign featuring cartoon superheroes dressed in purple spandex with names like Gogo Girl and Trudy Fo’real.
It made you wonder if Lance was the only one on drugs.
Like Armstrong, RIM will be using the first month of 2013 as a final shot at redemption. This is BlackBerry’s last chance to regain a customer base that has been abandoning RIM’s iconic products at an alarming rate over the past few years.
But unlike Lance, RIM has a legitimate chance to compete.
BlackBerry 10 is RIM’s answer to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android; the operating systems that have left RIM in the dust.
While the proprietary operating system and new hardware won’t be released until January 30th, there have been plenty of leaks thus far.
BlackBerry Hub allows you to view all of your messages in one place, whether it’s a message from Facebook, a tweet, a Skype conversation, an email, or a text. Frames enable you to view up to eight apps simultaneously, while Peek allows you to view portions of an application without actually launching it. The interface works smoothly, the animations are slick, and both the virtual and non-virtual keyboards are top notch.
Accompanying this new operating system are two touch-screen devices, with a keyboard-based phone soon to follow.
BlackBerry’s best chance rests with the iPhone-look-alike tentatively titled the Z10. It lives up to its moniker with a 1280 x 768, 4.2-inch display, 2GB of RAM, and an 8 megapixel camera. None of these specs will set the world on fire, but the Z10 is also purported to have NFC capabilities; a feature which many high-end Android phones offer but Apple does not.
While excitement for the BlackBerry 10 is mounting, consumers may argue it’s “too little, too late”. While questions remain regarding RIM’s ability to generate consumer interest, BlackBerry does have some things working in its favor. There are still 80 million RIM customers in the world, and BlackBerry is still considered the gold standard for network security.
RIM has already signed up 1,600 corporate customers for the BB10 training/support program, while the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency recently announced they would run a BlackBerry 10 pilot program (after previously announcing they would be switching to the iPhone 5). All major U.S. carriers have agreed to sell RIM’s new products, thanks in part to higher profit margins on all BlackBerry devices.
BlackBerry’s weak link remains its meager app ecosystem, but RIM has made a strong push to close the gap. In an effort to attract Android app programmers to BlackBerry, RIM recently held a “Port-o-Thon”, awarding prizes and paying developers $100 per successfully-ported app. In doing so, RIM acquired 15,000 new apps in three days, bringing their total to approximately 90,000. That number, however, is still paltry compared to more mature platforms like iOS and Android, which boast approximately 800,000.
Ultimately, BlackBerry is unlikely to surpass Apple or Android in market share, and RIM’s fiercest competition in 2013 will likely come from another OS looking to secure the number-three spot – Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8. Microsoft is a natural competitor for corporate clients, with the Windows Phone 8 platform already managing to accrue 150,000 third-party applications.
While there is always space in the ever-growing smartphone market for a third major player, it’s tough to imagine the BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8 both thriving in 2013. While Microsoft has the sector diversity and cash reserves to wait out losses, RIM requires almost immediate success.
At this point, RIM must wait for the public’s reaction to the BlackBerry 10 and hope their decision to headquarter in Waterloo, Ontario won’t become a source of irony in 2013.