RIM’s Incoherent Mobile Plans for the Future

by Jeff Wiener on December 9, 2010

The D: Dive Into Mobile conference held this past Monday in San Francisco was truly a wealth of tech and telecom information, as most major competitors in the mobile market offered a peak into their ongoing projects, giving technophiles the world over a tantalizing glimpse into the future of the smartphone and tablet markets.

Not only did Google unveil its next gen Android tablet, an unnamed project in partnership with Motorola, but many of the industry’s leaders offered useful insights into the direction their respective companies are taking and what products and devices they are dedicating their R&D budgets towards.

So when Research in Motion’s (RIM) co-CEO Mike Lazaridis took the stage, the audience justifiably was anticipating a glimpse into the future of RIM, but what they got instead was a confused and incoherent rambling that left many again questioning the leadership and direction of the popular Blackberry maker.

I would wager that RIM’s public relations team—if the company even has one of those—would have much rather seen Lazaridis rail against its naysayers or perhaps spout off a tirade against its closets competitors—a la Steve Jobs—but instead what they have to try to spin is the fact that Lazaridis, in an interview with AllThingsDigital’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher—seemed to have no idea what he was talking about.

The confusion began after Lazaridis dazzled the audience with RIM’s new Playbook, when he was asked about the company’s recent acquisition of QNX, a Unix-like real-time mobile operating system. Lazaridis noted that RIM plans on going forward with two operating systems, employing the next generation QNX operating system on its upcoming tablets and non-Blackberry smartphones—if there are any—and maintaining the Blackberry OS in all device so labelled “Blackberry.”

The explanation for this OS dichotomy was simple—at least in his mind—as he noted that QNX is built for multi-core—hear faster and more powerful—CPUs and  low-power high efficiency output, and is therefore more appropriate, I suppose, on non-Blackberry devices.

Confusingly, Lazaridis continued by stating that Blackberries were, in RIM’s mind, communication devices, whereas the QNX operating system was better suited for mobile computing. What a minute, mobile computing? Isn’t that what smartphones are known for?

By creating a false distinction between communication devices and mobile computing devices, Lazaridis, in one fell swoop, let RIM’s dirty little secret out of the bag; that the Waterloo based mobile giant has no idea where the mobile market is going, and no idea of how to continue to compete in it. All this without even mentioning the fact that Lazaridis offered an additional ten minutes of circular discussion trying to explain this supposed distinction, answering audience questions with trains of techno babble and double-speak.

If there’s one thing that is abundantly clear to me, it’s that while tablets are the current popular niche market in the tech world, the real future of mobile communication and computing lies with the smartphone. It certainly won’t be long that we’ll begin to see multi-core smartphones, and if Lazaridis, the CEO of one of the world’s most popular mobile companies, can’t see that, I weep for the future of RIM.

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Jordan Richardson December 9, 2010 at 9:40 am

This “confusion” seems to be blown way out of proportion. It’s easy, remarkably easy, to pile on RIM these days and there are plenty of reasons to do so. But Lazaridis’ answers were far from confusing. It seems that this assessment, and the links in this assessment, do more to promote a sense of strangeness that just isn’t there. One of the links, the one from Mobile-Review.com, doesn’t even let Lazaridis’ words speak for themselves. They are apparently “translated” from some dude’s own personal assessment.

Watching some of the clips, I can easily deduce that what Lazaridis is talking about is that the PlayBook will have more in common with your desktop PC or laptop than it will with your smart phone. Not that hard to understand. The type of power you have on your laptop will be, at least in part, with the PlayBook.

It also seems to me that Lazaridis is trying to be realistic. Smart phones are, or were, mobile communications devices. That is, or was, their primary function. Mobile computing is another avenue and it’s an expansive one, a road that the PlayBook will take more effectively than, say, the Torch.

This furthers the myth the RIM is fuzzy and directionless, which is a good myth to spread if you’re the competition. As to how close it is to the truth, I’m not so sure.

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