A lack of ambition? A grim dose of reality? No matter how you interpret it, embattled Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins' recent remarks are a testament to how far the giant has fallen, even as it hopes to rise from the ashes.
I. A Burning Platform
At a press unveil of beta hardware for the BlackBerry 10 platform, Mr. Heins said his company's short term goal is to get back to third place. He remarks, "We have a clear shot at being the number three platform on the market. We're not just another open platform on the market, we are BlackBerry."
Three years ago hearing the CEO of RIM say that his company was shooting for third would have elicited confused chuckles. Back in 2009, RIM was at the top of the market. One of the most valuable tech stocks, RIM employed nearly 20,000 people globally. It sold more smartphones that any other OEM -- in fact nearly 1 out of every 2 smartphones sold at the time was a BlackBerry.
Ex-RIM CEO Mike Lazardis's infamously remarked to Fortune in 2009 -- "Sometimes we have to put the brakes on. We've shown that we can handle annual 100% growth. I'm not sure we could handle more than that."
Well RIM indeed hit the brakes. It's been a tumultuous flaming crash ever since, with RIM's brand image going from glowing to garbage due to the company's failure to keep pace with competitors in pushing the hardware and software envelope. Today less than 1 in 20 smartphones sold is a BlackBerry [source]. RIM has laid off nearly half its employees. If you invested $22,000 USD in RIM back in 2008 you today would be left with less than $1,000 USD, thanks to the company's terrible tumble.
II. A Comeback?
But CEO Thorsten Heins is convinced his company's new platform will be superior to Google Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean", Microsoft Windows Phone 8, and Apple iOS 6.
He comments, "It has all the table stakes we need to have for consumer [success]. [Y]ou climb a mountain step by step. I'm not thinking about BlackBerry being the number one smartphone, BlackBerry needs to be number one in mobile computing."
Unsurprisingly, much of Mr. Heins' critique of the competition focuses on Apple -- a brand darling that has arguably innovated the least since 2007 in the user interface department. Much like Microsoft RIM feels that pushing apps into the background -- the strategy Apple uses -- hinders busy users as it increases wait times. Both BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8 feature persistent apps that are simultaneously running.
RIM takes things even a step farther than Microsoft, though, displaying actual thumbnails of the running app in a "multitasking zone". Of course, there are some downsides to this approach -- some customers may prefer a more stylized animated widget and there may be battery life penalties for rendering an actual thumbnail of each active app.
III. RIM Serenades Developers in Odd Pitch
In its latest in a series of bizarre marketing pitches RIM released a video alongside the event titled "Devs, BlackBerry Is Going To Keep On Loving You", which features an odd rock song about BlackBerry 10 and RIM's "transition".
The rather out-of-tune RIM crooner promises, "Don't be mislead, the launch is just ahead."
Of course RIM has been promising that since mid-2011, so whether it meets its Q1 2013 deployment target remains to be seen. Whether developers -- and customers -- still have any love left for RIM also remains to be seen.