Waiting for Qualcommo

The new CEO of RIM - Thorsten Heins. Will the best LTE chipsets come to those who wait?

So Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the co founders of ailing Blackberry smartphone maker RIM, have finally seen sense and stepped down. It seems that they have finally done what everybody has been telling them to do for some time – get up, get out and get a clue. Whatever RIM has been doing over the past few years, clearly hasn’t been working, with the company losing market share faster than something that loses market share really fast, going downhill. Like Nokia.

It’s a welcome move, but if we were being kind we have to admit that we don’t think that new boss Thorsten Heins has quite the charisma of a Steve Jobs – we can’t see him easily inspiring the troops to innovate it’s way out of trouble. If we were mean, and we’re not, we’d say he seems too conservative, too boring.

Well, we’re a bit mean. He’s seems boring.

What RIM simply needs is a hit, and with Apple and Android phones continually upping their game, not to mention the possibility of a resurgent Windows Phone powered Nokia, that’s going to be a tall order.

The hope is that Blackberry 10 devices and PlayBook 2 updates will save the say, but as ever with RIM these are subject to delays. The suggestions are that RIM is waiting for new LTE chipsets from Qualcomm. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with that – after all, Apple doing the same. However, Apple is the second richest company in the world and its phones so successful it barely updated the last one and still had a monster hit on its hand. For RIM however, the clock is ticking.

The problem is, the reasons to want a Blackberry are now smaller than ever. RIM came into existence on the back of email – a unique appeal that pretty much went with the introduction of the first smartphones. Then there’s the enterprise integration and security – areas the competition are making huge strides in. In fact you could argue that much of its continued success is from momentum of an existing customer base rather than any genuine technical advantages.

I personally know of one IT department at a large law firm that is exclusively a RIM shop, investigating the competitors as an insurance policy in case its main supplier goes belly up, and I’m sure it’s not the only one.

Then there’s its biggest remaining pull for many is from the “I have to have a keyboard” brigade – but my long held view is that this bunch are just stick-in-the-muds. The benefit of a smartphone is as an internet device, and taking up half its space with a keyboard virtually negates that; browsing on a Blackberry is unquestionably poor compared to a large screened iPhone, iPod touch or Android device.

So can RIM actually afford not to get new product out there quickly? If it is goes early and chooses to go with HSPA devices, it will be seen as a lagging behind, even if Blackberry customers are not the ones who are likely to actually need LTE speed. It could go for the current LTE chipsets, but that would force even more design compromises, and negate battery life that is probably its one real boon over that of the iPhone and Android brigade.

The face is that it’s caught between a rock and a hard place and in essence it is going to be forced to wait it out. And while Apple can bide its time, and use it to further improve the iPhone 5 or count its stash of cash, RIM will have to just cling on, and hope that when those suitably downsized, power efficient Qualcommm LTE chipsets finally appear, there’s still a company  to make use of them.

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