RIM’s 2011 so far: 10 months of BlackBerry ups and (mostly) downs

A challenging year for RIM

There’s still two months left in 2011, but if the book were closed on the year today it wouldn’t go down as a good one for Canada’s Research in Motion. There were new products and partners, but also service outages, layoffs and earnings disappointments.

We take a look through 10 months of RIM, examining the highs and the lows.

By Jeff Jedras

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January: Privacy issues and challenges ahead

The previous year ended with RIM being forced to give several countries the ability to intercept e-mail and instant messages from BlackBerry consumer services, raising privacy concerns for users who may run afoul of their governments. In January, RIM added India to the list. The alternative was being shut-out of key international growth markets. Analysts also expressed skepticism about RIM’s upcoming PlayBook launch, calling it crucial to the company’s future.

• RIM allows India access to consumer BlackBerry messaging 
• BlackBerry PlayBook tablet poses big challenge for RIM 

slide 2

February: A tool for developers

It was a slow news month for RIM, but a positive one, as the vendor released its BlackBerry WebWorks Application Platform, which lets developers use standard Web tools to create applications that work like native programs on RIM’s smartphones and PlayBook tablets. With WebWorks, developers can program in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript and create applications that are far richer than typical Web-based offerings.

• RIM pushing WebWorks for phone, PlayBook development 

slide 3

March: Business tools and PlayBook prep

In March, RIM gave a nod to its core enterprise users by partnering with Microsoft to create a RIM-hosted BlackBerry enterprise service for Office 365. It will have similar features to that of BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express and will initially be available for Exchange Online for Office 365 on a subscription basis. It also sought to address a looming PlayBook deficiency — lack of applications — by announcing users will be able to run Android and Java applications.

• RIM joins forces with Microsoft for Office 365 service
• RIM to allow Android apps on PlayBook 

slide 4

April: Playbook launches to less than positive reviews

RIM had high hopes for April with the launch of its long-awaited PlayBook tablet, and despite an extensive marketing campaign critics quickly declared the critical product launch for the BlackBerry maker was too little, too late. That didn’t stop RIM from embracing the channel, and partners such as OnX taking the PlayBoook to market. RIM also bought Montreal-based Tungle to help on the calendar front.

• RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 
• RIM boss fights back against Playbook critics 
• Top solution provider has RIM Playbook solutions ready to go
• RIM looking for more solution providers in Canada 
• RIM buys Montreal-based Tungle to boost its calendar capabilities 

slide 5 

May: More Microsoft and a PlayBook recall

May got off to a good start for RIM, announcing a partnership with Microsoft to offer a variety of Bing related services to BlackBerry and PlayBook users as part of the BlackBerry World user conference. A few weeks later, though, RIM announced it was recalling an estimated 1,000 playbooks that were unable to properly load software at setup. A negative headline but, on the bright side, most hadn’t yet reached consumers.

• RIM, Microsoft announce partnership with focus on Bing 
• RIM recalls about 1,000 PlayBook tablets 

slide 6

June: Layoffs hit RIM

Reporting its first quarter earnings in June, RIM missed already lowered analyst forecasts and downgraded its forecast for the second quarter as well. It delayed the release of its 4G PlayBoook tablet, and also launched a cost-cutting program and signaled it would include layoffs for the company’s workforce headquartered in Waterloo, Ont. In the midst of 200 layoffs and plunging stock, the takeover rumours began.

• RIM struggles, delays 4G PlayBook, sheds staff 
• A RIM takeover would be bad news for Canada 

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July: More layoffs and a patent win

After beginning the month with some good news, an auction win that could help with the patent woes that have plagued RIM in the past, the bad news continued in July as the planned layoffs rose to 2,000 worldwide. A RIM veteran, Don Morrison, also announced his retirement due to health issues. Analysts panned the layoff plan, saying change is really needed in the co-CEO’s suite.

• RIM and others win big for Nortel patents 
• RIM’s future may ride on slick new hardware offering 
• RIM cutting 2,000 jobs as COO announces retirement 
• RIM layoffs don’t address Apple, Google competition: analysts 

slide 8

August: New phones and plans for music

RIM sought to put negative headlines behind it in August with a bevy of product launches, including new BlackBerry Bold and Curve smartphones based on its new BlackBerry 7 OS. The new products, including the first touchscreen Bold, were well received, but critics pondered how well they’d sell with devices based on RIM’s new QNX-based OS due soon. The phones are among the first to make use of near-field communications.

• First look at RIM’s new BlackBerry 7 smartphones 
• RIM launches smartphone management for small businesses 
• RIM planning a music service on BlackBerry 
• RIM announces three new BlackBerry Curve smartphones 

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September: Playbook down, and so is revenue

RIM reported a major decline in PlayBook shipments as part of its second quarter results, shipping 200,000 compared to the 500,000 it shipped in the first quarter, when the device launched. Revenue was at the bottom end of lowered forecasts, but RIM executives were cautious the newly shipped BlackBerry 7 devices would buoy future numbers.

• RIM’s PlayBook shipments drop in half 

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October: CrackBerry goes cold turkey

There’s was more RIM news in October than we can fit on one slide. On the positive side, it struck a distribution partnership with Tech Data and got a warm welcome for the BBX roadmap at their developer conference. The rest? All bad. In short, major worldwide service outage worsened by poor communications, a belated peace-offering of free apps, and a delay of the new tablet OS until next year. Oh, and a possible lawsuit over that service outage. With two months remaining in 2011, RIM must be hoping this is it for the bad news.
• RIM strikes up a partnership with Tech Data 
• RIM peace-offering: Free apps, support 
• Developers welcome RIM’s BBX roadmap 
• RIM faces possible class action suit over BlackBerry outages 

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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