There are times when it is tough to catch a break. The way BlackBerry-maker RIM’s year is playing out, if it decided to enter an “unluckiest company in the world” competition, it would come second.
The headlines this week have been dominated by tales of woe following the BlackBerry service outage, which hit hardest across EMEA markets. By the fourth day of problems, Mike Lazaridis, RIM’s co-CEO, had taken to YouTube to tell users that “since launching BlackBerry in 1999, it has been my goal to provide reliable, real-time communications around the world. We did not deliver on that goal this week – not even close.”
Undoubtedly the issue was made worse by the fact that the company’s centralised network architecture means it has a single point of failure for services made available across large parts of the world. Indeed, it seems somewhat surprising that RIM is sticking to this when it doubles up so-much elsewhere – after all, it has two CEOs, and two executives have COO on their business cards.
As has been the case many times for telecoms companies, RIM has been criticised for its lack of communication with customers – a somewhat ironic problem. What made it worse is the fact that so many users have come to rely on their BlackBerry devices – indicating that whatever the company’s problems, it still has a dedicated and loyal installed base.
RIM was already taking a battering at the hands of the market, as it lost momentum in a smartphone market that is dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Despite its best efforts, RIM’s latest BlackBerry devices have lacked some of that unquantifiable sparkle of the flagship smartphones of its rivals, despite being well specified and building on the proven BlackBerry strengths.
And it is the key strength of BlackBerry which has this week been called into question. The thing about BlackBerry is that it just works. On a personal note, I have tried out a handful of devices this year, but gone back to BlackBerry in a matter of weeks, because it does what it is meant to efficiently and reliably. Or, more accurately, it did…
The real issue for RIM is that it is working in an immensely competitive market, and it is now struggling to define a unique selling point. When push email was a novelty, this was easy: now this is a commodity available across devices. And other smartphones can also offer an apps and content ecosystem which RIM has so far failed to emulate, on top of the now core messaging features.
RIM always had a reputation for reliability, which made it appealing to business and consumer users alike – a reputation which has this week been hit hard.
But what has happened has happened, and the challenge for RIM will be what it does to make amends. It will need to show it has fully understood the problems, and that it is taking measures to address these. With some operators stating they will offer customers free services or rebates to make up for the outage, RIM may need to put its money where its mouth is, and underwrite a compensation programme for affected users.
And it will have to do this while there is still a continued pressure for its next-generation of devices to be, if not iPhone killers, then Android beaters.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members