Why RIM could and should bounce back: mobile needs to innovate

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RIM has had a hard time since Apple’s iPhone has come out. Apple did more than bring the world a touch screen and the app store, Apple took apart the carrier/phone model that RIM was an absolute genius at building a strong company on. Most people focus on feature for feature device comparison but in reality it is what happened behind the scenes that I think hurt RIM the most.

… as important as the iPhone has been to the fortunes of Apple and AT&T, its real impact is on the structure of the $11 billion-a-year US mobile phone industry. For decades, wireless carriers have treated manufacturers like serfs, using access to their networks as leverage to dictate what phones will get made, how much they will cost, and what features will be available on them. Handsets were viewed largely as cheap, disposable lures, massively subsidized to snare subscribers and lock them into using the carriers’ proprietary services. But the iPhone upsets that balance of power. Carriers are learning that the right phone — even a pricey one — can win customers and bring in revenue. Now, in the pursuit of an Apple-like contract, every manufacturer is racing to create a phone that consumers will love, instead of one that the carriers approve of. “The iPhone is already changing the way carriers and manufacturers behave,” says Michael Olson, a securities analyst at Piper Jaffray.. – Wired, 2008

RIM was slow to adapt to this (not as tragically slow as Nokia was) but if they can hold on they could learn from what has happened so far in mobile. Instead of playing catch up they can lead the next phase.

I am bored with the iPhone and not impressed at all with Android — it is an OS carriers have used to try and claw back control of the device OS version which has resulted in a crazy amount of fragmentation. I do like Windows 8 because they think far more about how people use mobile and have at least tried a new way of using apps. On Nokia devices, Windows might gain some life but maybe the user experience is just not how people want to use the device.

Where is mobile going? Here is my ‘top things that will drive evolution of mobile’ list:

  • Mobile needs to integrate better with how humans function. Nokia is right, mobile devices demand too much of our attention. The Toronto Police are so concerned with it they are ‘clamping down’ on distracted pedestrians. The user experience needs to change so it demands less attention.
  • Your device is your mobile computing platform  for both personal and professional use. The demand for the Pebble demonstrates that people really want other things to work with their phone, BYOD is an IT office coup in terms of keeping costs down but it opens up a big can of worms when it comes to managing the devices, and who the heck wants to carry a wallet with swipe cards around anymore? This also includes home entertainment as it has to work easily with anything that would share your data.
  • Cameras are an essential tool on mobile — if you don’t have a great sensor and lens that doesn’t scratch then people simply won’t buy the phone. Camera’s are essential because humans prefer to communicate with images and people with kids like to take pictures all the time.

Enter RIM’s opportunity. They are a company that got ‘cloud’ on mobile before people called it ‘cloud.’ They also build the best email/msg/input device, period. It is also light on data. As much as we like the real web on mobile, when there are a lot people in one place or you are in a concrete building or underground or some place in between towers or without decent 3G it would be nice if I could at least msg people. RIM can do that better than anyone. An iPhone 4S on Edge is painful and I would imagine so is Android and maybe Windows.

If RIM can build a high quality device that can reduce the attention it takes to use it, have a clear divide between business and personal, and have some kick ass integrations while not loosing the things it does well I would be excited to use the device. I realize that isn’t all that easy to figure out because features alone won’t cut it. The device has to be experimental in how it works and will take some big crazy vision to discover it on both the device level and the how to deliver it to customers level.

I am hopeful that RIM can deliver me from my Apple dependancy – Android certainly can’t.

2 thoughts on “Why RIM could and should bounce back: mobile needs to innovate

  1. I think the low hanging fruit for RIM is mobile advertising, most sites are stuggling to monetize mobile users and RIM could get a big bump in support if they could figure out how to address this…

    • I don’t think advertising is going to work with such little screen real estate — but even if it could that isn’t RIMs problem to solve. They have to give consumers a kick ass phone and truly innovate how we use the device. If they don’t they will go the way of palm and maybe Nokia because they won’t provide a compelling enough product to trade a Samsung or iPhone in and disrupt all the stuff people depend on (iTunes, gApps intergration, etc).

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