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RIM: Re-imagining “Phone” again

by alec on May 30, 2011

The knives are out for RIM’s top management, but the financial press is missing the boat as they focus on short-term results.

In 2002, the company remade the fledgling smartphone industry by releasing the first devices – Blackberry 5800 series – with integrated enterprise class email.  The arms race was on, as Microsoft and Palm both quickly entered the market.   The tidal wave they spawned engulfed the market, wiping out stalwarts like Motorola – for whom a phone was a voice device – in their path. RIM changed the meaning of “phone” and reaped the profits inherent in that change.

Five years later, along came Apple and changed the meaning of “phone” again.  To Apple, “phone” meant the internet in the palm of your hand, plus a limitless supply of software customizations in the form of easy and cheap applications.   Now RIM has become prey, instead of being the top predator in the food chain.

To flourish again, RIM must tune out the noise from the street, and re-imagine the mobile all over again.  That’s where the press should be focusing their attention — looking for sign posts that indicate that this re-imagination is under way.

The Wall Street Journal published a piece in last Saturday’s paper titled RIM Hopes Cars Drive Playbook Sales.  If this is a harbinger for future RIM efforts, then it’s one of those signs, whether you believe in the “auto to mobile” device connection that the story plays up, or not.  This story says that RIM is again looking at the role of the phone, what the word “phone” means, and how they can change that meaning. How should a phone interact with other advanced electronics in the car, especially electronics running the same OS as that phone?  Should it stream media to in-vehicle displays?  Manage the electronics in the vehicle?  Provide an easy portal to diagnostic information?  Wirelessly find you a parking spot, and pay the bill?  Wirelessly pay tolls without having to stop at toll booths?  Transmit passport information at border crossings?

These are all good questions for RIM imagineers to ask.

I don’t know the answers to these questions.  What I do know is that RIM, and their subsidiary and partner QNX, seem to be thinking about creating an experience beyond what we know as “phone” today.   Just as RIM imagined a world where pagers, email, and telephone all worked together, and in the process reinvented the phone, they now imagine a world where that “phone” is the mobile device that is at the hub of our future digital existence.

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I like Qualcomm’s latest move, bringing their augmented reality developers toolkit to iPhone, even though the iPhone doesn’t use any Qualcomm chips.  It’s smart business, for three reasons:

  1. Qualcomm understands that software tools and platforms that work with a single hardware platform have a limited market.  On Windows, would you write for the Direct X API or the native graphics chipset API?  Answer: DirectX.  Qualcomm is trying to control the future AR consumer experience by controlling the tool set used to create that experience.  In doing so, they can advantage their own chipsets.
  2. Qualcomm is making it easier for developers to make a living using their tool set.  By enlarging the market for the developers products, they’re making the use of the Qualcomm tool set more attractive.
  3. Qualcomm is also creating a future potential customer in Apple. Apple may not buy Qualcomm’s chips today, but hopefully they will if Qualcomm can become a dominant graphics software supplier on the iPhone handset.

Someone’s thinking in San Diego.

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Senate hearings become Apple witch hunt.

May 11, 2011
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Apple and Google took a drubbing from the US Senate yesterday over location based services.  At issue — Apple’s use of GPS data collected on iPhone in order to improve the accuracy and speed of location fixes. As I wrote in July 2009, iPhone (and I’m sure all other mobile handsets today) uses assisted GPS, […]

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Apple revives long dead marketing practice

February 10, 2011

When I first started in the technology business, the practice of marketing differently in various geographies was common.  The same product might be sold in Canada for 10% more than it cost in the United States.  And watch out if you were European – 100% mark-ups were common.  Ostensibly companies localized products for various markets, […]

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Don’t be afraid to kill old business lines.

December 13, 2010
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Successfully transitioning from a current product to a next generation, without damaging the business today, is one of the toughest balancing acts in business.  That’s the challenge that the darling of the Canadian mobile market, RIM, faces today. Friday afternoon a customer casually asked me what I thought of RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis’ session at […]

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Skype vs Apple–is video the catalyst?

November 29, 2010
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In “The Sunday Morning Reflections on Game Changing Technology” Andy Abramson digs into what’s going on in the video space. You can summarize what he’s saying as “with Facetime, Apple could remake the video conferencing space”.  He lays out a number of scenarios where applications like Webex and GoToMeeting are shared with video via an […]

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Best mobile applications for business. What are your favorites?

November 24, 2010
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Monday’s Globe had a feature piece on the best mobile applications for entrepreneurs.  The thesis?  Smartphones are good for more than just gaming.  Amen to that! They listed a few of my favorites, but also missed some invaluable productivity aids like Dropbox, Tripit, FlightTrack, LinkedIn, Analytics HD, and of course Calliflower for iPhone, all of […]

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If you MUST text and drive, try to do it safely, please!

September 30, 2010

As governments move uniformly to ban texting, and non-hands free talking while in the car, a whole crop of applications are starting to spring up to solve the problem that people will still want to text and talk while they drive; safely, of course. This week I’ve been pitched by two companies claiming to solve […]

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RIM’s new strategy PlayBook

September 29, 2010

RIM’s new PlayBook looks pretty nice, doesn’t it?  At least from what we can see, anyway.  Launched a couple of days ago, its high pixel density display, snappy dual core processor, gobs of OS RAM, and Adobe Flash support (!) make it a very interesting entrant into the tablet market. In fact, let’s go one […]

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CounterPath Launches Bria on iPhone

June 15, 2010

Today CounterPath has launched Bria iPhone Edition, their first softphone for Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.  Think of this feature rich VoIP client for iPhone as being the mobile equivalent of a business desk phone.  With enterprise class features ranging from speaker phone to hold / unhold, swap, mute, conference, and security, this softphone […]

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