Moment of truth
There's a growing feeling that RIM is this year's Nokia. Throughout 2010 the commentariat insisted Nokia was blowing it by failing to come up with a credible answer to the iPhone and Android. Execs kept insisting things were fine and pointed to its sales of smartphones as evidence, despite the fact that the trend was negative.
By the end of the year the Nokia board has realised everyone had a point, and replaced its CEO with an outsider with a remit to do whatever it took to get things back on track. This culminated in the shocking decision to abandon the various platforms Nokia had spent billion on developing and getting into bed with fellow mobile struggler Microsoft.
So far this year the maker of BlackBerry phones has has similarly bad vibes from all and sundry, citing its belated platform update and general apparent reluctance to move with the times as evidence of its slow but inevitable decline.
This criticism got personal yesterday when mobile blog BGR published an open letter it claimed to have received from a high-level RIM employee. It started with a simple statement: "I have lost confidence." It went on to talk of sapped-passion and fear of speaking out, and claimed to represent the feeling of a ‘huge percentage' of RIM employees - whatever that means.
The majority of the letter covered things the exec thinks should be receiving higher priority than they currently are, namely:
- Focusing on the end-user experience
- Sort out software development
- Focus on fewer projects
- Listen to developers over carriers (operators)
- Improve marketing
- Get rid of dead wood
- Get a new CEO
- Listen to employees
In short: be more like Apple.
Surprisingly, given what was revealed about RIM in the letter and that it was penned anonymously, RIM has responded. While questioning the validity and motives behind the letter, the response stressed the senior management is "fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company's challenges and its opportunities."
‘Aggressive' has come to replace ‘really' or ‘a lot' in corporate speak, much in the same way ‘leverage' has replaced ‘use'. It's an unwritten corporate rule that your chances of promotion are directly proportional to how often you use the phrase ‘aggressively leverage' in your day-to-day business communications.
The rest of the riposte, however, is very reminiscent of the prickliness shown by the Nokia old-guard last year before events overtook them. While it conceded that smartphone growth has slowed in the US, it stressed international revenue grew by 67 percent year-on-year last quarter, and RIM still shipped 13.2 million smartphones.
The thing is, Nokia kept talking about how many Symbian smartphones it was still shipping until the decline in that number became so great as to make such proclamations embarrassing. You have to wonder whether RIM is suffering from the same kind of corporate denial identified at Nokia and, if so, when that will change. Maybe it already has.