RIM expected to lose subscribers for the first time

It’s going to be a rough month for what was once one of the most successful smartphone companies in the world. Between all the Android and iOS violence, it’s easy to forget there’s this Canadian company which was still growing its userbase every month. However, it’s expected the company will lose subscribers for the very first time.

I’ve never known what to make of BlackBerry. I always saw it as that brand of phones American people bought while us Europeans were busy using Nokias. The crazy thing is that I started to see more and more of my fellow countrymen buy BlackBerry devices after the arrival of the iPhone. Suddenly, RIM started advertising in The Netherlands for one of their full-touch devices – even though the only BlackBerry devices people appeared to be buying here were the more traditional ones with keyboards.

It soon became clear that much like Nokia, RIM would become another victim of the iOS-Android one-two punch that completely changed the mobile phone landscape within a few years. Like Nokia, they had no answer, and like Nokia, it took them way too long to realise they needed an answer in the first place. And again, like Nokia, recovery isn’t yet in sight, and even if it comes, hinges on a mostly untested operating system (Windows Phone 8 is a very different animal from 7 – NT vs. CE – and let’s face it, even WP7 is effectively untested compared to iOS and Android).

However, despite the doom and gloom, RIM was still profiting from the rising popularity of the smartphone – its subscriber base has never stopped growing these past few years. And now, even that last glimmer of positive news will vanish – according to “analysts”, sure, but even if they’re off by a quarter, it’s still pretty significant.

“This is the first quarter we are expecting zero subscriber growth – a loss in enterprise [customers] offset by a small gain in international consumer subs,” Kris Thompson of National Bank Financial told The Globe And Mail, “Starting next quarter, we see the sub base in a downward spiral with Blackberry 10 potentially slowing [the losses], but we’re not holding our breath.”

BlackBerry 10 is supposed to bring the entire company around. If it fails, the company will most likely change from a device maker to strictly a software/services company, or it might even be sold altogether (they’re most likely packing like crazy in the patent department). This, in my view, also explains the delays: the company knows full well there won’t be any second chances here. The first few BB10 devices – preferably even the first, period – need to be a slam dunk. A home run. A Left 4 Dead 2 campaign on expert with zero restarts, no deaths, and only 250 total damage taken (yes I’m very proud of that).

They’ve got the base operating system down. We’re looking at QNX here, and as far as base operating systems for mobile devices go, you can’t get much more optimised than that. Due to its embedded nature, it’s probably a hell of a lot more efficient than either Linux, Darwin, or NT. Userland, however, is a different matter – and you can have the most efficient and most awesome base operating system, but if your userland sucks, you’re not going to get anywhere.

As a geek, I’m hoping RIM is delaying to get the userland just right. We need another good competitor in this market, as iOS and Android are boring the living daylights out of me. I like Windows Phone, and would love a fourth player to achive success. RIM, don’t ship until you’re ready. Don’t give in to pressure. You’ll be able to take a few quarters of losing subscribers.


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