BlackBerry Tries to Remain Relevant

BlackberryYou don’t need to look at just the market perception to realise RIM is in decline. While Android and iOS are grabbing all the headlines, Gartner Research reports worldwide market share for the company’s products fell from 15.4 percent in the third quarter of 2010 to 11 percent for the same period in 2011.

The company is on a mission to try and convince both the enterprise and consumer sectors it’s still a good bet and capture some of the app-hungry market of consumers who play games and connect to social networks.

The first step was RIM’s acquisition of the QNX operating system in 2010, which it selected to drive its foray into the tablet market with 2011’s Playbook tablet, rather than the BBOS operating system that drives Blackberry handsets.

The company is gradually moving away from the BBOS software in the future all Blackberry devices – whether phone or tablet – will run on QNIX, a move Ovum analyst Tim Renowden applauds.

“It’s the right thing to do for RIM move away from their old BBOS and towards their new platform. From what we’ve seen the QNIX OS looks like a good platform.”

But the Playbook tablet has been in the market for around a year, and QNIX under the hood hasn’t halted RIM’s slide. “The biggest problem for RIM is it might be too little too late,” Renowden adds. “They’re not going to have new handsets on the market until the end of this year.”

RIM wouldn’t comment on its future product release schedule except to talk up their preview of BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 and a ‘wide range of improvements to BlackBerry 7, with BlackBerry 7.1 for smartphone users’.

So far, QNIX shows promise and allows for a more modular approach to app development. After complaints about the lack of a native email app, the Playbook 2 will have dedicated messages and contacts apps which will let users jump between all possible connectivity methods from looking up a colleague to clicking through to their Twitter feed, an SMS they sent or their LinkedIn profile, all without having to jump between different apps to do so.

But many question whether the move will stop the decline and many analysts and media sources are going as far as to suggest RIM should abandon BBOS altogether and embrace Android, saying the much-loved, patented Blackberry keyboard in the hugely expanded app ecosystem of Android will draw many users back.

But BBOS has a legacy of trust and security QNIX can’t match, prompting some to wonder whether should RIM focus on traditional strengths instead.

“The problem is the trend towards bring-your-own devices in enterprise,” Renowden argues, “and vendors have more effective management tools for smartphones other than Blackberry devices. BBOS isn’t able to compete with iPhone or Android in functionality and strong third party apps. That OS is reaching the end of its life.”

But neither the eventual discontinuation of BBOS in favour of QNIX nor the strategy of offering a store, apps, games and entertainment ecosystem to compete with the iTunes Store or Android marketplace might be enough. RIM spokesperson Shelly Stofer confirmed the company was betting on its products’ technical superiority by saying ‘we’re all building mousetraps, our job is to build a better mousetrap.’

However as a Gartner report points out, ‘better hardware alone won’t boost sales’.

“RIM needs to focus on a product people really want,” Renowden said. “They need to do a much better job launching handsets. Blue sky, blow-iPhone-out-of-the-water stuff will be a real challenge for RIM.”