OMG the RIM is falling

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If you didn’t think RIM was in trouble before one of the co-CEO’s had a meltdown on BBC you certainly started to wonder once that happened. For someone at that level to crack on TV in such a way they must be under immense pressure, now we know what it was. The company has hit a bad time. When that interview happened he must have known the Playbook just wasn’t ready and they had sacrificed the timing on the next model of the Blackberry (and how many great devs) to get that thing out fast. The delays are something they couldn’t afford with Apple’s profits soaring and Android making a whole bunch of different hardware decent to use. The media reaction is visceral, the talk of layoffs is the big news but lacks perspective and certainly is going to do some damage to their stock price (down to ~$25 from $45). Look at their basic numbers though, they are still OK with a lot of cash in the bank but they can’t afford business as usual. It is time to wake up.

There is a lot of talk about what they need to do or if they could be sold. I won’t pretend to have any idea on that. What I do know is that the culture there is broken — no I don’t work there but I have enough friends there and hear enough Office Space-esque stories that you know something is wrong. I know they love cubicles. I know they do nothing like what Google or Desire2Learn does locally for their employees. I know the office environment resembles an insurance company in the 1990′s (for most staff). I know they completely ignore Silicon Valley. RIM is competing with Apple, Google, and Microsoft on devices but on the culture side they don’t come close. Could they be “too Canadian?” By that I mean too boring, too risk adverse, too safe in how they behave, and very conservative in what they allow their employees to do or act in the workplace.

Here is how I would fix RIM: make it fun.

How do you do that? I have no idea with 17000 people. A guess? They have to let go of all the rules they have for themselves. They have to let go of their products. They have to let go of their OS. None of that means throw everything out but take away all their staff’s Blackberries and get them iPhone’s and Android powered phones. Use them. Fall in love with them like everyone else. Then find the flaws, the real flaws, not just the spec sheet ones (Do not sell me on “real multitasking” on the playbook, who the heck watches a movie AND plays a game on the same 7 inch screen?) and make the Blackberry better.

By the way you already have iCloud at RIM and I bet it works way better than iCloud will for the next 8 months. It is called BES and BBM but no one there seems to see the oppertunity there.

Disclaimer: I have never owned a Blackberry because I have never been impressed with their products.

Got my hands on a Blackberry Playbook

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One of the perks of being located in Waterloo is that sometimes you get to see some cool stuff from RIM before other people do. Usually that is because a co-op student or employee drops a “test” unit in a parking lot or fails to hide it well at the pub but this time folks from RIM brought in two Blackberry Playbook to the VeloCity residence!

The Blackberry Playbook

They went through the development options and the deal with getting apps into appworld, etc. All stuff that is blogged about everywhere. What everyone wanted to do was get their hands on it. My first impression? Fast, light, easy to hold with one hand, but the multitasking is probably the most impressive thing that I noticed right away and the one thing I like way more than my iPad. The best part of the presentation though, the icon on the bottom left of the pic above shows an app called Book Keeper, well here is the guy that created that in Flash.

VeloCity student already had an app on there

He just happens to live in VeloCity this term.

So what didn’t I like?

  • The UI is a bit odd. I know Apple is rumoured to be dropping the home button but I went looking for it. To get a menu you have to swipe the bottom third up or pull the top third down. Once I got use to it I still didn’t find it a good way to do it as it didn’t work on first go and if I want out of app I want out now. The other thing I wonder if it will interfere with reading and other things that might like to use that action in the app.
  • Screen is too small. I love my iPad, I love my iPhone, there is a clear difference in screen size and utility. This size of tablet is just bigger than a phone but way smaller than a laptop. I think the same thing that kills the small netbooks is the same thing that will hurt this size of screen. It will be really good for a lot of uses though… but I think it won’t be as fun as an iPad for games and reading.
  • It just looks like hardware, nothing remarkable. Perfect for the business market but not for those that see the tablet as an accessary as well as a tool. That likely won’t hurt the Playbook adoption I don’t think.
  • Trying to get it to work with legacy Blackberry OS apps (we were told just OS 6)… forget your old OS RIM, you will cripple the Playbook with too much software options.
  • The guys demo’ing don’t have an iPad — nothing bugs me more about folks from RIM than their total lack of knowledge of the really hot products out there.

What I really liked?

  • It’s fast, really fast, and the battery is good. This newer build of the Playbook has no battery problem I can see. We had a ton of apps going, pulling a lot of data, a lot of video, and lots of just hard usage for close to 2 hrs and the batteries went down but used maybe a 1/3. It got hot too which says to me the battery should be dead… but it was fine.
  • The screen is nice. Really clear, really bright.
  • Overall user experience is good. I might not like the swipe but overall it is a good experience. Hopefully as they work on it (rotation doesn’t work yet), it will get a bit smoother with the swipe. How easily it just plugged into the 60inch TV in the residence was pretty cool though… can’t do that with an iPad.
  • It is the right size for a tool in that I can one hand it and not be worried it might drop. With the iPad I am always worried about swinging it around and knocking it.
  • The dev environment — Adobe AIR is a smart move.

Overall I think it is good device and if it is priced right I am sure it will do ok. Will it be the market leader? No way. The iPad 2 will certainly keep the hot and sexy category and people will pay a premium for that. However, if you were looking for an affordable (hopefully) tool that is more than you can use to replace a lot of portable devices out there from pay point stuff to inventory apps to restaurant order taking software.

Really excited to see if students at VeloCity try their hand at making some apps for it, maybe some day we will see Kik on it ;)

Kik on a Playbook?

…and yes, all pics taken on an iPhone 4.

Not much to say on RIM vs Kik as yet

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By now it isn’t news to folks locally that the maker of the Blackberry and local corporate superstar, RIM, has decided to bring a lawsuit against a young startup in Waterloo (based across the road from RIM) that got its start in VeloCity, Kik. I had thought that I would have some pretty strong opinions on the matter given that I know Ted (CEO/founder of Kik) and I personally have very little affinity towards RIM (although they have been amazing community leaders, no one should let the odd hiccup spoil how great they have been for this community). My opinion at this point is pretty simple: I am confused and worried what this means for the startup community locally given that a lot of ‘founders’ have worked at RIM on co-op at one point.

I do sorta understand and respect RIM’s perspective on this but their reaction seems a tad dramatic. This could really harm the chances of people wanting to develop for their platform and discourage funders willing to fund anyone that has Blackberry development on their road map. Especially if the founders have any previous work history at RIM.

I hope it all gets sorted out quickly. Is it really that hard for RIM to go across the road to talk to them? That is what we do here in Waterloo… we tend to talk and sort out things, figure out ways to work together. Of course on the flip side, I keep being told that you aren’t successful until you get sued… so congrats Kik, you have reached a key milestone on the path to success!