Can Research in Motion survive?

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Answered by: Robert, An Expert in the Cell Phones - General Category
Can Research in Motion – Blackberry and others survive the onslaught by Apple and Androids?

Throughout the better part of the 2000’s Research in Motion’s Blackberry was the king of the business world. Here you had a no nonsense smartphone where a user could talk, message, send and check emails and even browse the occasional webpage, all on one device. While still relatively popular amongst company executives, the Blackberry is slowly falling out of favor. Research in Motion isn’t the only smartphone provider that has taken a hit over the past several years. Smartphone perception and technology has undergone an evolution, pioneered by the rise of the iPhone and the Android. Unless other companies respond by bringing something new to the table, it appears that they will have little hope of competing against these two industry giants.

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007 it brought with it a series of innovations that have since defined the smartphone industry. The design of the phone was very sleek, featuring a 3.5 inch scratch resistant touch screen and a depth of only 0.5 inches, making it ideal for users on the go. The iPhone uses a finger gesturing technology where most gestures are single finger, with multi-finger gestures used for zooming in and out. The user interface is left minimal, featuring only a handful of buttons. Although sometimes taking a little getting used to, the virtual keyboard allows for quick messaging and web browsing, all while not increasing the size of the device. Reception of the iPhone was overwhelming positive, as buyers sought them out with frenzy upon release.

The game changed once the iPhone was released, and the industry had to adapt. It comes as little surprise that industry giant Google led the charge. The HTC Dream was the first smartphone featuring the Android operating system and was released approximately one year after the iPhone. Where the iPhone was the only phone that featured the iOS, dozens of phones would go on to use the Android operating system; most notably phones produced by HTC, Motorola and Samsung. As a side, Motorola created the best selling RAZR in the mid 2000’s and has since went on to use the Android operating system in many of their phones and tablets. The Droid X is one of the most popular Android based phones, and has helped Motorola regain a large market share. They have become an industry leader by adaptation, as opposed to striving for an alternate technology.

The genius of the Android smartphones is that they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. A lot of their conventions are based on those of the iPhone. Like the iPhone they are characterized by a large touch screen, a virtual keyboard and finger gesturing technology. As stated above, what they hold over the iPhone is variety. There are many Android smartphones, catering to different needs and budgets. Power users can opt for the HTC Thunderbolt, a high performance 4G smart device optimized for streaming video and running powerful applications. The more casual budget conscious users would be more likely to purchase a 3G phone more conducive to everyday needs such as text messages, checking emails and browsing the web. The vast variety of Android smartphones may explain why they have as large of the market share as they currently do.

Both Android based phones and the iPhone have access to an expansive marketplace. It’s not a stretch to say that the marketplace is one of the biggest draws for prospective customers. The marketplace was first implemented by Apple in mid-2008 and has since grown to bombastic proportions. As of today the App Store has over 425,000 total apps and over 15 billion downloads. The Android Marketplace isn’t too far behind with 200,000 total apps and over 4.5 billion individual downloads. This trend will only continue, as the amount of downloads have exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

The overwhelming presence of iPhones and Androids on the market can mean one of several things for companies like Research in Motion. The most passive, and probably the least profitable option, would be for them to continue on as they have been. There is still a fair amount of the corporate population who want nothing more than to check their work emails and communicate with fellow co-workers when the need arises. Many of these user types already have a Blackberry and have no intrinsic desire to cross over into foreign territory. After all, if it works why fix it? Unfortunately, not too many workers think this way, particularly the younger demographic. Android and iOS smartphones are very simple to use, offering one touch email access and ultra fast text messaging. What about users who use their smart device outside the workplace? For those who use their smartphone as part of their everyday lives, the Android and iPhone are even more appealing. Fast web searches, navigational tools and access to countless applications are going to be just too much to resist for most current Blackberry users. While the passive approach may appeal to a small niche of business users who don’t want to change their ways, it’s likely that RIM’s share in the market will continue to plummet if they don’t do something major.

RIM could take the same approach that Motorola Mobilty took. As previously mentioned, Motorola was an industry leader several years ago. Having lost their way a bit, they needed to systemize a new approach. Over the past couple of years they have regained their edge by manufacturing smartphones and tablets powered by Android. They didn’t simply survive the Android onslaught; they became part of the machine. Research In Motion could take a similar approach and completely redefine themselves by producing Android powered phones and tablets, but that seems highly unlikely.

Instead of jumping directly on the bandwagon, RIM could respond in the same manner than Android did a few years back. They can create products that mimic the functionality of an Android or iPhone product. In fact, they have already done this. The Blackberry PlayBook tablet, based off QNX software systems, is RIM’s attempt to adapt a successful model into their own. It’s not working out all that well for them, as they’ve managed to ship only 500,000 units over the past quarter, in comparison to the iPad which has shipped out upwards of 3 million units in the same timeframe. Still, with some tweaking and unique innovation this may end up being a successful strategy for Research in Motion.

Ever since the explosion of Android and iOS powered phones on the market, the other players in the industry have struggled. Some companies, like RIM, have begun to adapt but have not been aggressive enough in their strategies to make a real impact. Others, like Windows 7 phones have tried to put a new spin on things and have failed miserably. Old staples like Symbian still hold a sizable share of the market, but are quickly losing ground. The products powered by iOS and Android are simply too diverse, user friendly and powerful for anyone to seemingly stand a chance in the near future. Like all things, a powerful new technology may change all this, but it appears that for the time being most other companies will not be able to be as profitable as they once were before the days of the iPhone.

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