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Managing perceptions and product at RIM like Apple did

A tweet by Peter Mansbridge brought a lot of people’s attention to an article entitled Steve Jobs’ Lesson for RIM: Power of Perceptions, Turnaround 101 which focuses a lot on how Steve Jobs changed the perception of Apple. That perception shift was driven a lot by product and it wasn’t the iPod that did it. It was the other product, the Mac computers and Apple’s ability to extend the life a dead OS that did it I think. Apple focused on revenue building and its ‘cult of mac’ first.

The problem Steve Jobs faced with their OS going from the OS 8/9 to X and where RIM is now feels very similar. Apple extended the life of a dead OS while it built the OS for its future (OS X) that gave Apple the flexibility to build the iPod, the iPhone, and beyond. Did Jobs manage perceptions but how he spoke about Apple? Sure, but he needed product to deliver on that promise that Apple is innovative and cool.

Managing the OS shift over years: Think Different

It is worth looking at Apple OS 8/9 to start as this is where the perception changed started. Compared to Windows 98, Apple OS seemed limited. There were few games, limited software available (mainly multimedia focused software), and these ugly beige boxes in its future. Building a new OS is hard though and Apple was out of money. They need to sell product in the interim. Since they couldn’t get an OS they changed the easier part, they went sorta experimental on the hardware. Bondi Blue iMacs, Power Mac (blue G3, graphite G4), Cubes (at the end of OS days), Clam Shell ibooks, Titanium bodied laptops. These experimental designs appealed to the multimedia creative crowd that used Apple for work. However, at first I think the designs were largely cosmetic but it didn’t matter. It was different.

This perception shift was product driven and brilliant. The faithful kept faith because there were constant updates and new ideas being offered to them. It was different, it was cool, it was worth that Apple premium on ‘top end’ hardware. I remember when I first opened the side of a Graphite G4 in 1998 when my Uni room mate got one. It was way cooler than anything I had seen before.

Then enter OS X.

**The 1998-2001 section in this Wikipedia article goes through the period before OS X which was basically the perception shift ‘heavy lifting’ period I think.

Lesson for RIM is 1998-2001 Apple

RIM is a mobile computing company with their BB OS 7 reaching end of life, they have devices that don’t capture the imagination (but who does at the moment?), and a hardcore group of users similar to the Apple fans of that transition period at Apple. In order to pull an Apple, I think RIM needs to capture people’s imagination with BB OS 7 now and slow down the talk on OS 10 outside of the dev community. Outside of devs I don’t think people care what OS it is anyway, they just want email and messaging.

With BB OS 10 coming soon it could do some things that I think would win over the fans:

  • The latest Bold is a nice device, the Porche designed one is kinda cool. Do more of that but make it really inexpensive for people to get one.
  • Offer those that get the latest Bold now the new BB OS 10 device in an exchange for $100 and offer app store credit of $100.
  • Do something awesome with the NFC tech — help a loyalty program deploy it and offer some crazy promotion on Bolds, give a Bold to every person at the NFL season opener and have their tickets managed via NFC on the device, etc.

I am certain that if you get the right people in a room with a whiteboard for a week (they should be at the FELT lab every day!) they would come out with a few things that are possible to do relatively quickly and will excite the loyal fan base. It seems like Alec Saunders is building his team still so maybe that is where the magic is going to happen? Hope so.


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  1. I agree, they need to capture user excitement today. Unfortunately there largest install base is still BB OS 5 and 6 though, BB OS 7 arrived to late and without sufficient volume. I would start with a new browser experience these BB OS devices, the Browser on these devices ( some are sold by Virgin today with BB OS 6 ) are 3+ years old…

  2. I felt the same way about Palm OS. When it entered into old age, it stagnated for years before WebOS. We know how that turned out. Not as lucky as Apple was.

    • Apple wasn’t all lucky, they hustled with hardware. Palm did nothing but sit there and watched it slowly die. I think the lesson is that you can’t stop pushing innovative product while you are working on your next gen ‘it will change everything’ thing.