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Does RIM Have Time To Fix Itself?

The fact that it’s got a less-than-desirable relationship with a big swath of developers out there should come as no surprise to RIM.

Apparently, a lot of investors are unhappy and increasingly so with the current top management structure, as Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis both serve as co-CEO and co-chairman of the board. The two CEOs don’t seem disturbed by the shared duties, which was set up in December 2010. Balsillie is doing more of the marketing and global traveling, while Lazaridis is the engineer focused on product development. They talked about their duties in the last conference call with analysts a couple weeks ago. They figure it’s working pretty well, so there’s no pressing need to change. 

That was the same call in which they had to explain a cost management process resulting in headcount reductions across the company. Things have changed a lot over the past few years, and RIM needs to lay off some workers in order to hire new talent and invest in the future. That’s understandable, although some will argue it’s too little, too late. RIM executives don’t want to call it a restructuring -- it’s “seeking efficiencies and streamlining,” although they might have been better off calling it a restructuring.

This week, headlines are buzzing about how RIM is losing favor with software developers. I don’t know about you, but this hardly seems like news to me. For some time now, developers have been saying they aren’t interested in developing for BlackBerry. Generally, they say it’s just too difficult, too many obstacles in the road to make it worth their time, energy, resources. That it’s got a less-than-desirable relationship with a big swath of developers out there should come as no surprise to RIM. What’s surprising to me is they didn’t do more to turn that around a long time ago.

This is all happening at the same time Apple is outlining its plans for hiring, not firing, and creating a grand new HQ in Cupertino, complete with space-age design outlined at a City Council meeting by none other than Steve Jobs himself. The facility will be capable of housing 12,000 employees in 3.1 million square feet. Jobs didn’t say how many new employees that will include, but Apple is “growing like a weed,” and that’s no surprise.

How times change. Wasn’t it just about three years ago when there was all that chatter about whether President Barack Obama would be able to keep his BlackBerry while in office? The BlackBerry brand didn’t seem like such a clunker at that time, and we were still talking about the “CrackBerry” phenomenon.

I understand BlackBerrys are still pretty popular in some markets outside North America. But right now, to me, North America is where it counts, and maybe RIM had its time in the sun and now it’s time for others (iOS, Android, anyone else who can manage to break in) to have their fun. Plenty of people still use BlackBerrys, but it’s increasingly clear that the generation that counts is going for the iPhones and Androids of the world.

RIM is running out of time, real fast. Or, to state it more accurately, it has run out of time and now it’s got to run a marathon to catch up. I hope RIM proves me wrong, but I just don’t see how it’s going to close the gap – not with the PlayBook, QNX, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 or U2.