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The Value of a Bronze Medal - RIM's battle to stay relevant -

The Value of a Bronze Medal – RIM’s battle to stay relevant

When I think of the Olympics, I think of that time every four years when lazy people sitting on a couch call someone loser for being the 4th best athlete in the world. The Olympics are gone but there’s no lack of loud losers with no self awareness.

This week RIM’s CEO said something painfully realistic, “we have a clear shot at being the number three platform on the market”. Twitter exploded and tech bloggers were fast mocking the goal. Funny enough, the leading tech blog (and we all know who the leading tech blog is, right?) called it what it is – realistic. Here’s a quick motivation tip – set realistic goals. If you’re RIM’s CEO, you have to talk straight to your people, which means admitting that RIM missed the last wave of smartphones and has to play catch up now. But let’s move away from the noise and think about this goal for a second.

The worldwide smartphone market will soon surpass 1 billion devices shipped every year (it’s now a little under half billion), and that will probably keep growing as today there are more than 4 billion cell phones worldwide. You can only expect smartphones to take over the world in the next several years. Are you looking for a multi-billion dollar market? I found one for you! Third place in this market equals many billions in revenue.

If you live in the US, and particularly in California, it’s easy to believe that everyone in the world has either an iPhone or Android device. The numbers tell us a different reality, one of Nokia dominance in a world where feature phones (or dumb phones if you like) are still dominant. As I said, I can only imagine smartphones replacing feature phones around the world, but for that to happen prices need to come down. This is RIM’s opportunity, and they can win it assuming they do several things right (and in all honesty they have done a lot of things wrong lately):

  • Price. The next frontier in the smartphone battle is the low end, entry-level phone. It’s unlikely Apple will fight this battle as it’s not their game. So really Android, Windows and RIM are fighting for this huge chunk of business, which will be the majority of the market in the long term (at least in terms of volume, not so much about margin). For now Nokia/Windows chose to go after the iPhone and the high end segment. The opportunity is there for the takers. RIM has proven in the past they can make cheap, decent phones.
  • Speed. You *cannot* take 6 years to develop a new platform. BB6 was a flop, BB10 is delayed. In the meantime, Apple launched 6 models, Google released yearly updates for Android, and Samsung took the market by storm with fast on-the-spot releases. The bright side is that Nokia is equally slow, and Microsoft hasn’t yet figured out how not to blow an OS release.
  • Platform. RIM has a couple things that appeal to a large segment of the market – security, push email, and BBM. I hope they don’t screw that up with BB10. I still think RIM can win a portion of the enterprise market if they get the platform right. Then again, BB6 was not promising.

Do I think RIM has a shot at being the #3 platform? I certainly do, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they blow it. Now for those seating on the couch laughing at RIM’s CEO, you tell me what’s the next billion dollar market you’re going to chase and then we talk. I actually think these are exciting times to be working for any of these players fighting to stay relevant. Let the games begin!

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