I wrote in our last issue that RIM’s co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, should be given the opportunity to run their company until mid-2012, to prove that they can reverse the current slide
. I said the company spent a lot of money recently, that its newest phones haven’t been out for long and that devices based on the QNX operating system may save the company when they ship in 2012. “The guys should be given a chance,” I wrote, because “the loss of RIM—through slow death, a buyout or a breakup—would be a disaster for technology in Canada.”
I stand by that opinion, but the guys have made that position a lot tougher to maintain.
First, a widespread data outage cut the legs from under BlackBerrys in much of the world. North America was lucky, down for only about a day, but many regions lost data service for three days.
But the outage itself is not really my gripe. It shouldn’t have happened, of course, but let’s be fair: Google has had outages, network providers have been known to fail and internal networks occasionally take unscheduled vacations. RIM doesn’t get a free pass, but we can all acknowledge downtime is not unique.
What I can’t overlook so easily is the performance of Balsillie and Lazaridis who, for days, were entirely mute. Finally, an online video (http://goo.gl/v3bz9) from Lazaridis was released Oct. 13, three days into the outage. His closing words were: “We’ll update you again soon,” but no other video on the outage ever surfaced.
Apologizing promptly and offering reassurance is Crisis Management 101. A story we published earlier this year detailed a road-safety campaign that netted a lot of negative response
. The people behind the campaign acted promptly, telling us: “We addressed comments on blogs, replied to Twitter comments and published [a blog post] to address the misinformation. It showed we were listening and encouraged more conversation.”
I guess no one at RIM read that story.
The second hit to my faith in the company came during its October developer conference. The company had been promising software updates and new functionality for months; specifically, an update would finally bring on-board calendar, e-mail and address book functionality to the PlayBook tablet. “Don’t worry,” we heard repeatedly, “great things are coming soon.”
RIM had said the tablet update would be released in October, and all eyes were on the conference. But there was no mention of help for long-suffering PlayBook owners and, in general, the conference was light on news. Developers got some new tools and attendees were treated to a preview of the new operating system, which will launch sometime next year. In other words, “Don’t worry, great things are coming soon.”
And then, at the end of October came the news that RIM is delaying the PlayBook upgrade to February 2012, 10 months after the device launched. In the words of RBC Capital Market’s Mike Abramsky, “Following prior product and software delays and the recent outage, this represents another execution stumble.”
I’ll say it again: I want RIM to succeed and I believe it may still pull itself up. But with cool features and regular improvements pouring forth from other companies, the question has to be asked: Why can’t RIM execute? And on that answer uneasy lies the future of RIM.
RIM should keep its executive suite intact—for now
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook / QNX
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