BlackBerry’s Consumer Exit That Never Was

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Peter Judge

RIM is not abandoning consumers. Its plan to ride BYOD back into the enterprise may not work, but it is a plan, says Peter Judge

The problems of Research In Motion (RIM) are almost too numerous to mention, but today, it all seemed to shift up a gear.

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins announced a refocussing in a news conference and it was then reported everywhere that the maker of BlackBerry phones was abandoning the consumer market and returning to its home territory in business.

That’s not what he said…

The reports were joined by commentary lamenting a stupid decision.  “If Thorsten Heins is serious about abandoning the consumer business and focussing instead on businesses, RIM doesn’t have long to live,” said Charles Arthur in the Guardian, following up with some disturbing graphs about RIM’s business.

It is true, that abandoning the consumer market would be a stupid move, even for a company which is struggling in that sector. RIM does have historic strengths amongst business people, and there are still plenty of office workers who can’t really accept mobile email on any other device.

But the core market RIM had back in the early years of last decade, was a small group of executives, completely dwarfed by the business market today, where almost all professionals have a smartphone in their pocket.

The business market today will not go back to BlackBerrys. The consumerisation trend is in full swing and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) means that consumer devices  – iPhones, iPads and Android – are taking over in the office.

So yes, to abandon the consumer market would be to go in completely the wrong direction.

But that wasn’t what Heins said. After a couple of hours of media storm, RIM’s vice president of marketing, Patrick Spence, pushed out an announcement.

“The claim that RIM has said it will withdraw from the consumer market is wholly misleading,” said Spence. “Whilst we announced plans to re-focus our efforts on our core strengths, and on our enterprise customer base, we were very explicit that we will continue to build on our strengths to go after targeted consumer segments. We listed BBM, as well as the security and manageability of our platform, amongst our strengths.”

On the call yesterday, Heins specifically said that in order to refocus on the enterprise, RIM would need to compete in the BYOD phenomenon, with a “compelling consumer offering”.

He also said RIM would be pushing BlackBerry 7 phones hard this year to “sustain the subscriber base”, pushing upgrades and bringing in new customers upgrading from feature phones to their first smartphone.

New BlackBerry 7 devices will address the entry level, and the company is looking to find media partners, but there is no guarantee that this will work – and every possibility that it might be too much of a struggle.

But to say RIM has thrown in the towel is wrong. The truth is the exact opposite. The company has finally decided which fronts in the battlefield are worth fighting, and come up with its closest approach to a coherent strategy since its crisis began.

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