Research in Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of Blackberry, is going through a rough patch lately. As we have reported earlier, Blackberry’s share of the smart phone market continues to erode. It is seeing its once leading market share going to Google Android makers and most notably Apple iPhone. Given the current trends, it looks like things are not going to change much and Research in Motion is beginning to look like a very, very vulnerable company. In fact, the CEO of RIM Thorsten Heins has admitted in an interview with The Telegraph recently that Research in Motion frankly cannot keep up with Samsung, the maker of very popular Android phones, and Apple, of course the powerhouse behind the iPhone, without getting outside help. This is a sobering admission for a once high-flying company. You have to understand that Research in Motion’s Blackberry defined smart phones in the days before the iPhone. It was one of the core brands of the smart phone market.
To be fair, back then there were still many spaces for regular phones that were not so smart. In those days, the smart phone market was a relatively fixed niche with its fixed base of consumers and the rest of the mobile phone consumers use the regular non-smart phones made by manufacturing giants like Nokia, which led the world market back then. Nokia still retains a larger share of the mobile market now, but it looks like the market is increasingly becoming a smart phone market. As we have reported earlier, unless Nokia makes a move, it stands to become irrelevant in today’s fast-moving mobile market. The same applies to the Blackberry. It has just been completely swamped by Samsung’s Android phones and the iPhone. Interestingly enough, Heins admitted in The Telegraph interview that Research in Motion did consider migrating its operating system to the Android free OS platform. We all know that this did not happen, but they did seriously consider it. However, as we know, Blackberry 10 still uses the proprietary Research in Motion platform.
Why didn’t Research in Motion pull the Android trigger? There is a simple one-word answer: differentiation. Heins said that if you look at the hardware manufacturers in the Android space, there is very little space for one brand to fully differentiate itself from the others. In fact, while there are many Android handset makers, when consumers think of Android, they are increasingly beginning to look at a small group of handset manufacturers as the definitive Android brand. Rightly or wrongly, when people think of Android phones, they usually think of a Samsung or maybe an HTC handset. The problem is the increasing brand identity of Samsung’s product lines with Android is threatening to completely swamp out all other handset manufacturers.
Just based on what is happening to HTC and also Google’s own Motorola brand both running Android, it appears that Research in Motion did the right thing. This is because if they went Android, they could not really leverage their current user base that is loyal to the Blackberry OS. Most importantly, there is really no assurance that going Android would pay off in terms of more users. In fact, it might erode their existing user base and they end up in worse position than they are in now. Instead of being a distinct brand with its own loyal user base and several years of brand equity, they lose all that in the uncertain race to the bottom with other Android-based manufacturers like HTC, Samsung and a list of other smaller players. Also it takes away from the focus on Blackberry Messenger.
Heins says that Blackberry Messenger is its ace in the hole. It is its way out of the current hole that the Blackberry is in. It has a mobile messaging capability that sets it apart from its competition. It will not have this distinction if it went Android. In hindsight, we can see where Heins is coming from and despite the difficulty that Research in Motion is finding itself in, it appears that going Android is not the solution.