Pros: For all of the challenges Research In Motion is beset by, its BlackBerry platform still has several positive things going for it. NPD Connected Intelligence analyst Ross Rubin noted that RIM is still in control of its own destiny and is not licensing its software from any other company. The company also has a strong patent portfolio and isn't being sued the way Android licensees have been. Despite dropping market share, it is still the No. 3 player in the U.S. market. And BlackBerry continues to derive support from carriers, governments and enterprises alike, even though some companies, including oil services giant Halliburton, have been defecting. And RIM is profitable.
"If you are very focused on messaging, the BlackBerry is still the most messaging-centric smartphone on the market," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said.
Cons: Criticism of BlackBerry can be summed in one word: stale. "They skipped technology generations in their update cycle," ABI's Michael Morgan said. "They started to fall behind in the bigger, newer, faster better race. They were more focused on core issues of security, power management." Those are important issues for the user experience but they don't really resonate with consumers, he said.
Greengart was even more blunt. "Blackberry 7 is not a modern operating system," he said. "The user interface is still basically the same UI that we have had for the last 10 years with touch grafted on." The platform has focused on messaging for too long and did not focus enough on apps and multimedia (though RIM did launch a cloud-based music service in November.)
RIM has pushed back against the "myths" about the platform, however. Alec Saunders, RIM vice president of developer relations, recently stated that BlackBerry App World now generates more than 6 million daily downloads, translating to 174 million downloads per month and 30 downloads per user each year. Still, a lack of developer enthusiasm relative to the other platforms has hampered RIM's ability to combat the rise of iOS and Android.
Challenges ahead: The challenges are stark, and RIM's new CEO Thorsten Heins knows it. Not only does RIM have to deliver its next-generation BlackBerry 10 platform on time, but it has to be bug-free and get wide support from carriers. Greengart said the platform will need to have a native email client (unlike the first iteration of RIM's software for its PlayBook tablet). The company will also need to build developer support for BlackBerry 10. ABI's Morgan said that RIM has always thought "enterprise-first" with consumer features added on, and that to succeed now RIM needs to reverse that thinking. "I just hope they are not designing the phone of the future by looking at current state of things," he said.
Ultimately, RIM will have to try and leapfrog iOS and Android in at least a few significant ways in order to "compensate people for the risk they're taking in investing in a platform that's new and the guaranteed deficiencies in a new operating system," Greengart said. "It's a key year for them," Rubin added. "In many ways, their 2012 looks a like Microsoft's 2011."