Research in Motion (RIM)–maker of the popular BlackBerry line of smartphones, confirmed an email outage earlier today. The issue has since been resolved, and RIM reports that service is back to normal, but it’s never good for marketing or public relations to have the word “outage” come up.
In an e-mailed statement, RIM noted “Some customers may still experience delays as email queues are processed.” The statement summed up with “RIM is continuing to investigate the cause of the issue and apologizes for any inconvenience.”
The outage only impacted e-mail service. Affected users were still able to place phone calls, use text messaging, and surf the Web. That is good news for most, but little consolation for users who were perhaps anxiously awaiting an urgent e-mail at the time.
Users don’t like outages in general, though. People have been more than a little irate at outages by Google, and particularly riled up when Microsoft and Danger lost all data for T-Mobile Sidekick users. In an increasingly competitive smartphone market, outages are a black eye that doesn’t win any fans.
RIM’s BlackBerry is a leader in the smartphone segment. The BlackBerry and Apple’s iPhone have been eating away at Nokia’s dominant position, with RIM holding nearly 20 percent of the market, and Apple nearly 11 percent.
Like Nokia, though, RIM needs to watch its back and pay attention to the threat from the iPhone. RIM may have nearly double the smartphone market share of Apple globally, but the iPhone has leapfrogged into the number two spot for smartphones in the United States.
Users rely more and more on smartphones as an all-in-one communications platform. An outage of any size or duration is bad for RIM’s reputation and damages its credibility with customers. RIM has experienced massive, North America-wide outages in both 2007 and 2008.
The outage only impacted consumers relying on RIM to provide the e-mail platform. Business customers that manage their own internal BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) were not affected. Corporate customers make up the vast majority of BlackBerry users and are RIM’s bread-and-butter source of revenue, so that is good news for RIM.
With security and compliance concerns to worry about, it is difficult for businesses to fully embrace a platform like the iPhone. For now, that leaves RIM as the dominant player for a business-friendly smartphone platform.
RIM needs to continue to innovate and find ways to continue to provide compelling handsets and services for corporate customers while also finding ways to expand into farther into the consumer market. If Apple ever loosens control enough to allow for an iPhone management platform similar to BES, RIM could see its market position plummet.
Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page .