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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Earth to the tech punditocracy: Research in Motion is still very much alive

It seems that hard­ly a day goes by now when I don’t stum­ble across an arti­cle pre­dict­ing the decline or even the death of Black­Ber­ry mak­er Research in Motion, which rev­o­lu­tion­ized the hand­set with an array of unmatched mes­sag­ing capa­bil­i­ties (push email, Black­Ber­ry Mes­sen­ger) in the ear­ly 2000s.

While it is cer­tain­ly true that com­pa­ny faces stiff com­pe­ti­tion from the likes of Apple and Google these days, RIM and its Black­Ber­ry plat­form are still very much alive, con­trary to what the self-anoint­ed tech pun­di­toc­ra­cy would seem­ing­ly have us all believe. I’ve lost track of the num­ber of times I’ve heard RIM described as a sink­ing ship doomed to obliv­ion (or some sim­i­lar metaphor).

The pun­dits who have writ­ten RIM off all seem to have a dou­ble stan­dard. They are eas­i­ly impressed by any­thing Apple or Google do, but com­plete­ly unim­pressed by any­thing that RIM does. They say Black­Ber­ry is dead, or on the verge of being dead, even though RIM still has a healthy share of the smart­phone market.

Their crit­i­cism might have a shred of cred­i­bil­i­ty if RIM was idling, not both­er­ing to devel­op any new prod­ucts or improve the qual­i­ty of its ser­vices. But that is just what the com­pa­ny is doing. RIM knows it has to com­pete, and com­pete aggres­sive­ly, if it wants to sur­vive. It has to inno­vate more quick­ly than it has in the past. But it also needs to do a bet­ter job of pol­ish­ing new devices before putting them into the hands of review­ers and mar­ket­ing them to loy­al customers.

It’s a tough bal­anc­ing act. But RIM seems to be embrac­ing the chal­lenge, seek­ing to rein­vent itself with­out com­pro­mis­ing its tra­di­tion­al strengths.

It just isn’t get­ting much recog­ni­tion for its efforts. Take this dis­mis­sive para­graph from Boy Genius Report’s Jonathan Geller:

The real prob­lem with RIM is that it hasn’t inno­vat­ed for years. In that time, RIM’s entire prod­uct port­fo­lio has been arguably lack­lus­ter, reduced to mean­ing­less hard­ware upgrades and mean­ing­less soft­ware upgrades. The com­pa­ny has tried to right its path by tran­si­tion­ing to QNX, an OS it pur­chased that will not only run the company’s tablets but smart­phones as well in the next year to two. And the Play­Book by itself isn’t a bad prod­uct — but com­pared to the iPad, it’s a non-starter.

I’m not sure if Jonathan has both­ered to try out the Play­Book, but I’ve got one, and I would describe it as a well-designed, 5.1 by 7.6 inch tablet with a lot of promise. Despite a slew of unen­thu­si­as­tic reviews, the Play­Book has been sell­ing rea­son­ably well, in part because it has unique capa­bil­i­ties that the iPad does not.

For instance, it has a Flash-ready brows­er capa­ble of ren­der­ing web­sites like a desk­top or lap­top. It has an HDMI port, which means it can be effort­less­ly con­nect­ed to a mod­ern flat pan­el tele­vi­sion, no adapter required. And it ships with sev­er­al thought­ful­ly designed native apps, includ­ing an Adobe PDF read­er and a word proces­sor that can accu­rate­ly dis­play most documents.

I can attest that the Play­Book is a joy to use. And because it is small­er than the iPad, it is much lighter and more portable.

Since launch day, RIM has pushed out sev­er­al updates to the Black­Ber­ry Tablet OS, cor­rect­ing bugs and intro­duc­ing new fea­tures. Sev­er­al updates have arrived this month, includ­ing one a few weeks ago which con­sists of a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments.

But there is more to come. RIM has con­firmed that sev­er­al extreme­ly excit­ing updates are in store for the Play­Book, which will cor­rect almost all of the flaws iden­ti­fied by review­ers. These include:

  • Native email, cal­en­dar, and tasks. Present­ly, the Play­Book has no stand­alone per­son­al infor­ma­tion man­ag­er apps, though it can dis­play mes­sages, events, and to-do items from a Black­Ber­ry smart­phone via Black­Ber­ry Bridge. But native apps are on the way for those who need them.
  • Sup­port for Android and tra­di­tion­al Black­Ber­ry apps. Present­ly, there isn’t a huge selec­tion of apps avail­able for the Play­Book, because the oper­at­ing sys­tem that runs the tablet is so new. That will change when RIM ships a com­pat­i­bil­i­ty update allow­ing the Play­Book to run Android and tra­di­tion­al Java-based Black­Ber­ry apps.
  • 4G radio. Present­ly, the Play­Book is Wi-Fi and Blue­tooth only; there’s no built-in radio that can con­nect to a cel­lu­lar net­work. Many Play­Book own­ers don’t mind this, since they can pair their Play­Book with their Black­Ber­ry smart­phone or stand­alone mobile hotspot to get con­nec­tiv­i­ty. How­ev­er, RIM is plan­ning to launch a ver­sion of the Play­Book with a radio built in to cater to cus­tomers who want con­nec­tiv­i­ty every­where that cell sig­nals reach with­out need­ing a sec­ond device.

Jonathan also had unkind, dis­mis­sive words for RIM’s efforts to improve the soft­ware that runs its Black­Ber­ry smartphones.

RIM’s Black­Ber­ry OS 7 (also known as Black­Ber­ry OS 6.1, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry 6, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry OS 5, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry 4.7, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry 4.5, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry 4.3, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry 4.2, also known as the same OS as Black­Ber­ry 4.0…) isn’t an over­haul, but just anoth­er stop-gap solu­tion until QNX.

This deroga­to­ry char­ac­ter­i­za­tion makes no sense.

How are the incre­men­tal updates that RIM has made to Black­Ber­ry OS any dif­fer­ent than the incre­men­tal updates that Apple has made to iOS, or the incre­men­tal updates Google has made to Android?

Black­Ber­ry 7 may not be rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent than its imme­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, OS 6, but it is rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent than OS 4, which came out years ago, when the much-tout­ed iOS did­n’t even have copy and paste functionality.

I can’t imag­ine that any­one asked to try out a hand­set run­ning OS 4 and then a hand­set run­ning OS 7 in a store would say the phones have the “same OS”. By Geller’s log­ic, Win­dows 7 is the “same OS” as Win­dows 2000.

OS 7 actu­al­ly promis­es to be much snap­pi­er and more pow­er­ful than its imme­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor because it will run on much bet­ter hard­ware. Con­sid­er the spec­i­fi­ca­tions for RIM’s forth­com­ing Black­Ber­ry Bold Touch, which mar­ries the out­stand­ing qual­i­ties of RIM’s most suc­cess­ful phone to a fast proces­sor and a high res­o­lu­tion touch­screen, and will like­ly be sold by all three of the major carriers.

RIM is also said to be devel­op­ing a refreshed ver­sion of the Torch, its first slid­er, which debuted on AT&T last August, though that has not been offi­cial­ly announced.

The team at RIM undoubt­ed­ly knows that they need to bring the Bold Touch, Torch 2, and oth­er revamped phones to mar­ket soon to keep loy­al users hap­py, and give users of oth­er plat­forms rea­son to con­sid­er get­ting a Black­Ber­ry. Google’s part­ners are con­stant­ly com­ing out with new Android phones, and the fifth iPhone is due out in a few months, as Apple con­firmed the first week of June.

Whether the Bold Touch and Torch 2 sell well remains to be seen. There’s a good chance that the Bold Touch (which we know for sure is on the way) will be a hit, though. It could espe­cial­ly appeal to folks who like hav­ing a phys­i­cal key­board for fast typ­ing, but want the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a touch­screen, too.

What I find iron­ic about the neg­a­tive cov­er­age of RIM by tech blogs is that it very much resem­bles the behav­ior of rat­ing and click obsessed tra­di­tion­al media out­lets, who love to pick win­ners and losers. Blogs like TechCrunch and BGR do their read­ers a dis­ser­vice by emu­lat­ing the behav­ior of tabloids and cable news net­works. How about less favoritism and more ground­ed analy­sis for a change?

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12 Comments

  1. I have a torch run­ning OS 6. When I pick up a friends non touch screen OS 5 device, I always think “how do you use this thing?” RIM’s OS has made some pret­ty dra­mat­ic changes and will con­tin­ue to.

    # by Another Chris :: June 26th, 2011 at 8:53 AM
  2. excel­lent teport.…I am dis­gust­ed by the many bias reports. I tru­ly believe that some reporters (if I can call them that!) love chas­ing a com­pa­ny ito the ground to sim­ply show that they had the col­lec­tive pow­er to kill a true enterprise.…major ass­holes. At any giv­en time, these jerks jump on a bad­wag­on to kill a com­pa­ny and move on to the next.…..I believe many of them prof­it from this by short­ing a com­pa­ny in the stock mar­ket and reap the prof­its when the stock goes down.……amazing how they over­look Apple’s many flaws…like the Iphone 4 that requires tape to stop the ante­na from jig­gling or no hdmi or no flash.…..that (reporters) call them minor flaws!!!! get real

    # by Doug :: June 26th, 2011 at 9:08 AM
  3. You’re in denial if you dis­agree that RIM has been putting out decent prod­ucts over the years. Their ‘next big thing’ is the Bold 9900 which touts last years top-notch specs and it does­n’t even have a release date yet. That, to me, and most peo­ple, is being behind in the smart­phone market.

    # by D4L :: June 26th, 2011 at 11:54 AM
  4. RIM? .…more like “RIP”!

    Research in Motion? More like “Research in Slow Motion”! 

    A stock that falls so hard so fast is bound to fall much fur­ther. Expect $10 a share, or less, by year’s end. After all, bal­ance sheets, prof­its, R&D and their unique sell­ing points don’t real­ly mat­ter. Only momen­tum does! 

    How RIM ever had the dream of com­pet­ing with Apple is beyond me. Apple just blows every­thing away, relent­less­ly, for eter­ni­ty. It won’t be long before every­thing, even our brains, will be run on an Apple OS! 

    /sarcasm

    # by iLove everything Apple does!! :: June 26th, 2011 at 11:56 AM
  5. So Where is so called Boy Genius? Cow­ard like he is… Kin­da Fun­ny. RIM isn’t dead and QNX is going to do every­thing that the Ipad wish­es it could do! Steve Job’s and all his fel­low losers will find out shortly…

    # by Michael Schmitt :: June 26th, 2011 at 12:15 PM
  6. Aye Aye Cap­tain Smith, I don’t think there are any iCe­bergs out there tonight either.

    Edi­tor’s note: The com­menter claims to have been a Black­Ber­ry user for ten years, but even­tu­al­ly gave up on RIM and now uses an iPhone.

    # by Trahira :: June 26th, 2011 at 12:20 PM
  7. Thank you for such a dif­fer­ent insight on RIM. Although I’m open to what choic­es these so called tech blogs/journalists writes, I’ve absolute­ly grown tire­some on “RIP RIM” articles.

    # by Yves :: June 26th, 2011 at 1:19 PM
  8. Glad to know some writ­ers out there are writ­ing some good fact based arti­cles. I just saw one ear­li­er this morn­ing here 

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/231203/game_over_five_reasons_the_iphone_5_will_dominate.html

    I find this arti­cle total non­sense and based most­ly on spec­u­la­tion. So sick of the iSheep and Apple for cre­at­ing a holi­er than thou cul­ture. Good job Job’s.…

    Here’s to hop­ing for the best for RIM and Google, HP and oth­ers to start to real­ly shake things up for Apple.

    # by Jerry G :: June 26th, 2011 at 2:38 PM
  9. final­ly a bal­anced review of RIM, every­one is aware of the mis­takes they’ve made but they have also done a lot of good, most notably the Play­book. An awe­some device, but for some they like to nit­pick, like lack of native email email, its com­ing but i do not care i get email via the bridge, and that’s anoth­er item some make it out to be neg­a­tive, the bridge is a huge plus, two devices one data plan, can it bet­ter than that? Not!

    btw how long can AT&T screw their BB customers?

    # by Dean :: June 26th, 2011 at 5:03 PM
  10. Let the record show that RIM will be kick­ing some butt here short­ly, and Apple and Google will short­ly be dis­missed from the population.

    # by Michael S :: June 26th, 2011 at 5:08 PM
  11. Hang in there, fol­low your own head — con­tem­po­rary sto­ry­telling depends on attract­ing clicks, pro­pri­etary gain at pub­lic expense. 

    # by John Dowdell :: June 26th, 2011 at 6:21 PM
  12. Thanks to Andrew, for a very nice sum­ma­tion of what only a few peo­ple are notic­ing — that RIM is almost uni­ver­sal­ly panned no mat­ter what it does, despite the fact they are obvi­ous­ly nice­ly pro­gress­ing toward a very bright future with QNX and faster hard­ware — and there is noth­ing wrong with the respectable upgrades on their “old” OS.

    # by Don Cooper :: June 27th, 2011 at 8:19 AM

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