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RIM Needs a Hat Trick.

Research In Motion (RIM) dominated the smartphone market at the turn of the century. Their BlackBerry smartphones gained a foothold in the business world, with corporations and individual business users. Pretty soon consumers also discovered the usefulness of their devices. And then Apple happened. Apple's iPhone showed the world that every other phone was broken.

Having been czar of the smartphone realm, it is arguable that RIM lost the most when Apple invaded. The company attempted to stem the tide of losses with overhauls to its devices, it's operating system, and by introducing a tablet. While decidedly losing relevance in markets such as the US, UK and even their home country Canada, they maintain a foothold in developing regions where they are still considerably more affordable than other smartphones. The BlackBerry Messenger platform also keeps some people loyal, many owning the device solely because of the ubiquity of the messaging service.

RIM is not dead yet, but I'm hardpressed to name a technology company, besides Apple, who staged a successful comeback after losing relevance. Palm, Yahoo, Nokia, Netscape, Gateway, and America Online all failed and never returned. And that was certainly not an exhaustive list. If RIM is to avoid relegation, they will have to accomplish something that the records say is impossible. In this arena they can perhaps take a play from the books of Spain's national football team. They will have to change how the game is played, take bold risks, and stick to their guns. The question is, do they have the gusto to pull it off?

Changing the game isn't easy, and it may not pay off right away. When Spain decided to do away with the forward position, many called it suicide. When Apple decided to eliminate buttons from the phone, leaving just one, people thought it extreme. Spain and Apple suceeded by doing things which went against conventional wisdom. For RIM to stage a comeback, they too will need to make things remarkably better, in ways that are obvious only after it's done.

It is also important for RIM to build on the experience and expertise they have accumulated. Heralding from the days of their two way pagers, the BlackBerry keyboard has captured the fingers of many a user. However, their first foray into the touchscreen arena failed to take the market by storm. The BlackBerry Storm was clunky and unresponsive. It's 'click screen' was more annoying than innovative. Even diehard BlackBerry fans won't defend that black sheep of a device.

RIM also failed to make the jump into the tablet segment. The Playbook didn't play to their strengths. It was initially missing a native email client, and did not appeal to business users. Lacking BlackBerry Messeger, it also failed to capture the consumer market. They were caught on the backfoot, being forced to respond to their competitors, instead of playing forward in a game they were in control of.

RIM seems to have learned from the Storm debacle, having since released hybrid phones with both keyboards and touchscreens. While not the first to experiment with such a combination, RIM has done a commendable job in making the combination work. If a Playbook 2 ever sees the light of day, they will need to show the world something that Samsung, Asus, Amazon and others haven't discovered as yet. RIM will need to think way outside of the box, if they are to have a future in the new mobile marketplace.

When the pager market died, RIM transitioned to smartphones. Smartphones have evolved, and are less phones, and more mobile computing devices that happen to make calls. If RIM is to pull off a hat trick and succeed with a third generation of mobile devices, they will need to avoid further false starts. Had consumers been as unforgiving as the IAAF, they would have long been disqualified. With their stocks taking a beating, and their market share on the decline, they better act quickly. Their loyal fan base won't be enough to save them when the numbers stop adding up.
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