RIM Open Letter and Response: Is BlackBerry a Sinking Ship?

RIM Open Letter and Response: Is BlackBerry a Sinking Ship?
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The Complaint

On June 30th an anonymous letter, apparently from a senior RIM employee, was published by Boy Genius Report. It starts with the line “I have lost confidence” and goes downhill from there. Rather than being a destructive litany of how awful the RIM management is, it seems to be a heartfelt plea from inside the company to change direction and wise up to the changing marketplace.

If you’re interested it is well worth reading the letter in its entirety, but here are the main points condensed.

RIM is failing to focus on the end user and what they want.
  • The software team management isn’t good enough and employees are demotivated.
  • Products should not be shipped until they are ready.
  • Developing apps for BlackBerry smartphones is too difficult.
  • Marketing is poor.
  • There’s no accountability so underperformers are keeping their jobs.
  • Dual-CEO is not working and overconfidence is blinding them.
  • The company needs to listen to feedback.

The Response

The author didn’t have long to wait for a response and it was posted on the official Inside BlackBerry blog. They kick off by questioning the authenticity of the letter and suggesting that the author should have discussed it internally. I guess they are missing the part where the author suggests that talking openly is difficult and potentially “career-limiting”.

They then go on to talk about the transitional period they’ve been going through and how the new line will turn things around. As I discussed before in Is BlackBerry Dead? The new line is far from inspiring. It’s tough to understand their confidence about a range of products that could be dead on arrival due to a lack of any distinguishing features.

The rest of the response is a bullish statement about how strong RIM is and how much the company has grown in the last few years. While they may be healthy on the current balance sheet that’s not a guarantee their position will last and on current trends their “$3 billion in cash and no debt”, could evaporate alarmingly quickly.

Resting on Their Laurels

Whether the RIM open letter is real or not doesn’t really matter, because regardless, it does make some valid points and it’s the kind of feedback that management really need to listen to. Their response smacks of burying their head in the sand once again. They seem content to rest on their laurels as though past success is enough to ensure a bright future.

Their inability to admit that they’ve gotten some things wrong could prove to be their downfall. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you don’t learn from them then you’re doomed to repeat them.

Smartphone Wars

There’s no doubt RIM is a good company and they’ve done extremely well with the BlackBerry brand, but it’s also pretty clear that they are losing the smartphone wars. The rise of Android continues, the iPhone is as popular as ever and there will be a new one along any minute. The main loser in terms of market share is RIM.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t doing well, after all the market for smartphones is growing, so they are still selling an impressive number of handsets; according to their response they shipped 100 per minute last quarter – that’s 144,000 per day. Google claims they are activating 500,000 Android devices per day. To be honest, both those figures are hard to believe, but it’s still clear who is winning.

BlackBerry Bashing

One of the main reasons that the RIM management really need to sit up and take notice is the fact that BlackBerry bashing is becoming commonplace in the media. There is a clear and present danger here that all this negative reporting on RIM will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the perception that RIM is going down is allowed to grow unchecked then it will have a snowballing, and potentially devastating, effect on their future health.

If you read through the comments on the Inside BlackBerry blog post you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone shouting out in support of the brand.

I’m certainly guilty of BlackBerry bashing, but honestly that’s because I don’t see anything desirable in their products. If I had to choose from Android, iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry then BB would be bottom of that list – yes, even WP7 looks better to me. Sadly for RIM a lot of people are beginning to think that way.

Turn the Ship Around

It’s never too late to turn things around; at least while you still have some cash and revenue pouring in, but you can’t take forever to do it. People are quick to jump off a sinking ship and right now RIM isn’t doing enough to convince anyone that their ship isn’t sinking. The fact it’s sinking slowly isn’t a good reason to ignore the problem.

Post a comment and let us know what you think, can RIM turn this around?