Research in Motion's having a rough couple of weeks. First, the BlackBerry PlayBook got panned by critics, snubbed by AT&T and dissed by Verizon Wireless. Now, RIM is angering Wall Street by slashing its Q1 forecast, thanks to weak smartphone sales. It didn't help that a Nielsen survey found BlackBerry falling out of favor among consumers as Android desirability grows.
But there's hope. My time with the BlackBerry PlayBook showed me that RIM is capable of greatness, but the company still has serious work to do if it wants to get back on track. Here's what needs to be done:
Fix the PlayBook OS
There are glimpses of beauty in the BlackBerry PlayBook. The swipe-based gestures are clever, and the approach to multitasking makes iOS and Android look silly. But at every turn, the PlayBook OS is undermined by crashing apps, weird glitches, and little frustrations. There's that whole missing e-mail and calendar issue, which will eventually be fixed, but more importantly, the PlayBook needs a serious spit-shine. (My biggest pet peeve: finger taps that don't register in the browser.)
Get the Big Apps
Plead with Netflix. Appeal to Twitter. Make a deal with Zynga. Pay big bucks to Marco Arment for his Instapaper app (assuming he'd accept). Find out why Kindle's promise of a PlayBook app is, at the moment, unfulfilled. Do what it takes to bring some headliners to the PlayBook, because Need for Speed and Tetris aren't cutting it. Fast app switching is one of the PlayBook's greatest assets, and it's being squandered by an App World filled with junk. An Android emulator may help, but it's no panacea.
Put the PlayBook OS on Phones
Take a look at the 2011 BlackBerry roadmap posted on Boy Genius Report. You know what's missing? Any mention of the PlayBook OS or the dual core processors that RIM says are required to run the PlayBook. This isn't due to a lack of technology. Dual-core smartphones, like the Motorola Atrix 4G are on the market right now, and yet RIM continues to drag out old hardware and boring software because the business users still demands it. RIM has an exciting platform in the PlayBook. It needs to stop delaying the inevitable and move on by putting the tablet's OS on smartphones, ASAP.
Find an Articulate Leader
Corporate communication isn't something that directly affects consumers, but it trickles down. When the press can barely understand what Jim Balsillie, RIM's co-chief executive, is saying, consumers get a gloomy outlook on where the company is going. This should be a turning point for RIM, a point at which its new platform saves the company from obsolescence. Instead, we have this, from Balsillie:
"I mean, there's a natural aging and there is a natural transition to newer products. And this is such a comprehensive transition for us. So it's a big transition; there's no question it's going to happen, it's done and the products are working; there's a debugging cycle and there's a certification cycle and that will always put you at risk in or out a couple weeks, and the farther back you are that is in or out a couple months."