When BlackBerry crumbled, nobody got any emails for three days. This made people angry; angrier than if you had approached them on the street, apropos nothing, and slapped them firmly across the face (I should know, I tried: they didn’t even react. They were too busy staring at their lifeless phones).
The episode – crisis: let’s be frank and call it a crisis – developed like the outbreak of a deadly virus. The first stage was confusion. There were no emails. No Messenger. Communication ground to a halt. People stared dumbly at each other, their mouths flapping like grounded fish, trying in earnest to remember the long forgotten art of verbal interaction.
On day two there was full blown panic; cities burned, banks were looted, people adopted a primitive system of bartering and anything with a mobile signal was worshipped as a deity.
By the third day the fabric of civilisation had peeled away entirely. London was a waste-ground. Survivors rocked silently back and forth. The more practical among them tried in vain to use the useless husks of their BlackBerry handsets to smash their way into tins of food.
Then, after three days of silence, RIM wheeled out co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis (pictured) – a real-life giant, 12-stories high, sculpted by a wizard from a single block of cheese – to say he was sorry. And the people understood. Nobody has lost more than Mike. Earlier this year he was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian (a dubious accolade even then). Now he’s begging for pennies somewhere near Alaska. So it goes.
The question now is what can RIM do to make things better? Here are some suggestions:
1) Sign up to Android or Windows Phone. RIM’s in-house software looks like its being powered by a ZX Spectrum compared to the latest version of Android. Its menus are pixely and unpleasant to traverse – it’s the operating system equivalent of throwing folders into a thicket of nettles and expecting you to scramble around on your hands an knees to retrieve them. It lacks the intuitive feel of iOS or the slick, consumer-friendly appeal of Windows Phone. RIM has new software in the pipeline – the snappily titled QNX OS – but it’s a tweaked version of the software we have already seen on the PlayBook: and it’s no great shakes. Killing the BlackBerry OS may seem like a drastic step but isn’t as big a deal as Nokia ditching its Symbian platform (and the Meego software it had spent the last few years working on).
2) Sort out the board. Why do Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie need to share the job? Did they already try paper, scissors stone? Whatever the reason, as RIM continues its downward lurch – its shares have fallen by two thirds this year – the situation becomes ever more conspicuous.
3) Get the phone right before branching out. The PlayBook tablet has been an unmitigated disaster. Parallel universe theory says that every eventuality will be played out in its own dimension; every minute change spawning a new version of reality. But not once, in any dimension, has anyone ever bought a PlayBook (RIM may well be in danger of collapsing the entire fabric of space and time). Of their latest smartphone releases, only the Bold 9900 is very impressive (the Torch turning out to be something of a damp squib). More phones, less tablets.
Of course, Lazaridis will probably never read this. City A.M. isn’t distributed in Canada. I’d say he could check it online, only I hear he’s having a few problems getting connected.