BlackBerry Breakdown

Here lies the true lesson of RIM’s long, slow slide into obscurity: No matter your organization’s track record of success as a market leader or its ability to provide a product or service, there’s no telling whether it’ll be able to deliver when the market demands something new and different.

No matter your organization’s track record of success as a market leader or its ability to provide a product or service, there’s no telling whether it’ll be able to deliver when the market demands something new and different.

There is something I find fascinating about bearing witness to long, slow slide into obscurity and irrelevance.

How does an individual or group of individuals with the proper skills and desire to facilitate a rise to prominence or, in some cases, dominance eventually succumb to failure in the long run? More importantly, how much are they to blame for what transpired?

Consider the once-dominant BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. Just three years ago, the company carried 50 percent of the U.S. smartphone market and its products were the preferred choice of corporate America. Now the mobile pioneer is best known as a subject of unflattering press coverage related to questionable corporate restructuring efforts, failed product initiatives, and multiple service outages. RIM now carries just five percent of the U.S. smartphone market and its future as a relevant brand looks bleak at best.

The New York Times recently published an unfavorable article entitled “The BlackBerry As Black Sheep,” which featured several scathing quotes, some of which came from actual BlackBerry users. A sample:

  • “I want to take a bat to it. You can’t do anything with it. You’re supposed to, but it’s all a big lie.”
  • “I feel absolutely helpless.”
  • "I’m considering removing my BlackBerry battery, pouring in cement, and using the BlackBerry as an actual paperweight.”

These are hyperbolic quotes that speak to the frustration of some BlackBerry customers, but they don’t exactly get to the heart of RIM’s problems. The company’s failure lies in the fact that it didn’t recognize the need to cater to both its subscribers’ professional and personal needs with its device offerings and (underwhelming) inventory of apps.

RIM’s inability to recognize market trends and evolve as a company allowed hungry, savvy competitors to wrestle way market-share from the beleaguered BlackBerry maker. Apple’s iPhone and a plethora of mobile devices running Google’s popular Android operating software now completely overshadow the BlackBerry in the public’s consciousness. Yes, people still use the device. But the brand and the company are teetering on the brink of extinction.

A return to widespread prominence is probably out of the question for the Canadian smartphone maker. But what about a return to respectability and relevance? It’s a legitimate possibility, but only if RIM’s long-delayed BlackBerry 10 doesn’t flop when it is made available late this year and the company can somehow, someway overhaul and improve its inadequate inventory of apps.

RIM’s downfall can be seen as a cautionary tale with obvious lessons such as “Don’t rest on your laurels!” and “Always be thinking about your next move!” However, that may be oversimplifying RIM’s plight just a bit.

There always seems to be more to the story, certainly more than can be summed up in one clichéd “moral.” That’s why I find RIM’s situation so fascinating. Yes, the once-prominent tech giant has made some missteps along the way. But I find it difficult – without relying solely on the benefit of hindsight – to criticize RIM for choosing to attend to the needs of its loyal business-oriented customer base over competing for the hearts (and dollars) of casual smartphone users.

As an organization, RIM understood it was the preeminent provider for business users and knew what it took to retain that title. Interestingly enough, the company’s confidence in that fact that contributed to its downfall. And perhaps in that fact lies the true lesson of RIM’s long, slow slide into obscurity: No matter your organization’s track record of success as a market leader or its ability to provide a product or service, there’s no telling whether it’ll be able to deliver when the market demands something new and different.

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