We asked last summer what RIM needs to do to stay relevant in the enterprise. Since then, the trends undermining RIM’s dominance have only accelerated. iPhones, iPads and Android apps are insurgent in businesses of all sizes. Companies ranging from Motorola to Microsoft are competing with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. We mentioned then that Apple might not be particularly interested in the enterprise, but that has proven false. Apple is poaching enterprise sales staff from RIM.

With the release of the BlackBerry Playbook tablet this week, it seems like a good time to assess how things are going for the company.

Last summer we suggested RIM do one or more of the following:

  • Switch to Android
  • Make Developers’ Lives Easier
  • Integrate with other enterprise software
  • Create a Breakthrough Technology


Last month RIM confirmed that would offer an “app player” for running Android apps on the Playbook and future QNX-based BlackBerry devices. Great news, right? Wrong. Users won’t be able to just download apps from the Android Market and run them on BlackBerrys. According to MacWorld developers will still need to port applications to the QNX platform. So RIM doesn’t totally fail here – but it only gets a D.

Make Developers’ Lives Easier

The BlackBerry OS is notoriously difficult to develop for. This hasn’t changed, though the ability to port applications from Android is a step in the right direction.

In February, developer Jamie Murai wrote a zinger of an open letter to RIM titled “You Win, RIM!.” The letter concluded:

So it was at this point that I decided to surrender. Knowing what a pleasure it is to use Apple and Google’s tools, there was no way I could justify continuing with Playbook development. I thought this story would end there. Unfortunately, there was one more little jab you were still able to get in, RIM. This afternoon, Google Notifier informs me that I’ve received an email from you. Naturally, I assumed that it was just a confirmation that my App World account had been approved, considering I had filled out your forms truthfully and completely, just as you had asked. However, I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, a request for more personal information. You wanted me to print off a notarized statement of identification form, fill it out, take it to notary with government issue ID to have it notarized, and then return it to you so that you could be absolutely sure with 100% accuracy that I was who I said I was. I think it goes without saying at this point, but neither Apple nor Google require you to do anything even close to that.

So, my dear RIM, primary supporter of my local economy, I bid you adieu. You have succeeded in your quest of driving away a perfectly willing developer from your platform. On a more serious note, being the underdog, you need to make your process AT LEAST as simple as Apple’s or Google’s, if not more so. You need to make your tools AT LEAST as good as Apple’s or Google’s, if not more so. You have failed at both.

To its credit, RIM responded quickly – but the problems still remain. Meanwhile, while representatives from Google, HP and Microsoft do their best to woo developers into building apps for their platforms, RIM executives continue to downplay he importance of apps. The message to developers? “We don’t need you.”

RIM gets an F for developer outreach.

Integrate with Other Enterprise Software

We haven’t seen much action here. The company is offering a hosted BES solution as part of Microsoft Office 365, and continues its middleware programs with companies like SAP. But RIM isn’t moving into new markets or enabling new capabilities.

Meanwhile, RIM shot down the idea of supporting other devices on the BES, and it denies that BlackBerry Messenger will be coming to other platforms.

Another F.

Create a Breakthrough Technology

There’s nothing new on this front either. The PlayBook is an un-exciting 7″ tablet with nothing to distinguish it from the other players on the market. It’s not even shipping with native e-mail, contacts and messaging support. For now, RIM’s best hope for the Playbook, as Business Insider writes, is that corporations with established relationships with RIM will purchase large quantities of the device.

One ray of hope lies in its acquisitions of TAT and Gist. The former is known for its forward thinking interface designs, and might just cook-up something ground-breaking. But if it is working on something new and interesting, it’s still a secret and probably on the distant horizon.


Microsoft Nipping at RIM’s Heels

Overall, RIM has failed to make any substantial improvements. Android and iOS have passed the BlackBerry in consumer sales, and continue to gain in the enterprise. Meanwhile, Microsoft is nipping at RIM’s heels.

Microsoft is tight-lipped about its enterprise strategy for Windows Phone 7. Brandon Watson, director of developer experience for Windows Phone, told us yesterday at MIX to wait for TechEd for announcements. But the WP7 platform is solid, and its app marketplace already has 13,000 apps. If Apple and Android are considered “too consumer” for some corporations, Microsoft may well be in a place to grab some major market share from RIM in the enterprise.

Disclosure: Microsoft paid for Klint Finley’s travel and lodging to attend MIX, and MIX is a ReadWriteWeb sponsor.

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