Can a Leaked RIM Roadmap for 2013 put the Canadian Company Back on Track?

By | Jul 9, 2012

Beleaguered Canadian device maker RIM has faced falling fortunes and fading customer confidence over the last few years. With the release of its BlackBerry 10 pushed back, investors and customers alike are wondering if the company has reached the end of the line. A supposed RIM roadmap leaked from an anonymous source, however, shows a healthy list of devices in development over the next year. Perhaps RIM can still keep its tires on the pavement.

Over-fee'd

At a time in the not-so-distant past, BlackBerry devices were the staple of the IT and business world, while devices like the iPhone were considered fun but hardly suitable for the kind of networking true professionals required. And while RIM was never able to make the transition to general use like Apple's suite of products or Google's smart phones, it seemed their domination in the business world was all but assured. And then things changed.

Other phones caught up with RIM. The physical keyboards so many loved about the BlackBerry suddenly became onerous, an indication of the device's status as somehow inferior. Fortunes began to turn.

Part of the problem, according to a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen, are the carrier fees charged by RIM to customers using its BlackBerry network servers. Right now, these fees bring the company over $4 billion US in revenue per year, and they are the only handset maker to levy this kind of cost. While a spokesman for RIM, Nick Manning, says that "RIM intends to continue generating a revenue stream from the services we offer," technology analyst Sameet Kanade speculates that the fee could drop by 17 percent this year and another 18 percent in 2013 as carriers demand lower fees, in part because the BlackBerry name just doesn't carry the same clout it once did.

Though lowered fees might help offset BlackBerry's flagging sales, their real challenge comes in pushing through to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) market. IT professionals are already bogged down dealing with security issues presented by the huge variation in employee handsets. Despite its pedigree, RIM will have to do significant work if they want to get IT admins on board, since another player in the game just means one more insecure path to company data, even if RIM was once a dominant business force. But for IT admins who still love their BB and hope that RIM will somehow rise from its ashes, the recently leaked RIM roadmap may offer some hope.

Up and Coming

The supposed plan comes from BlackBerryOS.com, who says they received it from an anonymous source. Its graphic shows RIM's timeline for device releases over the next year and a half, starting with a 4G version of their PlayBook tablet in Q4 of 2012. The London and Nevada versions of BlackBerry 10 come next in Q1 2013 and by Q3 they aim to have another tablet on the market, codenamed "Blackforest."

Of course, this data is all subject to change and there is no guarantee the roadmap is accurate, but it doesn't seem too far out of the realm of possibility. RIM loved the PlayBook; consumers just didn't warm to the concept, and BBOS 10 could provide a solid foundation for both handheld and tablet devices.

So yes, it's certainly possible for RIM's fortunes to change again, but that would likely take an admission that they are not so stellar right now, something the company seems unwilling to do. An ideal world for RIM would see renewed interest in a 4G tablet and a superior showing of BBOS 10 and BlackBerry 10 smartphones that deliver real business functionality. Unlikely, perhaps, but still possible.

Realistically, however, midsize IT admins need to prepare for a falling out if RIM goes under and BlackBerries are no longer supported devices. Many older execs are still firmly convinced that only their BBs are the way forward for business and it may take some effort to pry tiny keyboards from their managerial hands. RIM may speed this process if they can't deliver on their promises, and IT professionals should be prepared to offer solid recommendations for replacement smart phone infrastructure--be it an Apple, Google, or Windows device.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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