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3. PLATFORMS, NOT PRODUCTS
Resistance to change and a lack of outside influence aren't the only factors contributing to RIM's rapid loss of market share, Cusumano told CRN. The company's focus on devices and hardware, rather than its software platform, also played a role.
He explained that operating systems provide much more opportunity for growth and stability than actual devices do because tangible products such as smartphones and PCs tend to shift form factors with time and the fluctuation of consumer demand. This makes them a less reliable (or at least riskier) source of revenue for a company -- unless there's a homegrown and well-adopted OS behind them.
"Platforms are something that, once established, have real staying power to them," Cusumano said. "Hit products come and go and get replaced. But platforms are around for a long time."
Since the introduction of iOS and Android, RIM's BlackBerry OS has been steadily losing ground. While once accounting for nearly 50 percent of the U.S. mobile OS market, the BlackBerry platform slipped to a significantly smaller 8 percent by August 2012, according to market analyst ComScore.
Cusumano noted several causes for this decline. The first, and perhaps most simple, is that the BlackBerry OS is not developer-friendly. He said he has heard from application developers first-hand that RIM's platform is clumsy and difficult to build for. They also complain of an "unnatural" user interface and glitchy Web browser.
"It's sort of a red flag when you start hearing this from app developers," he said.
The other hurdle faced by RIM is the OS market itself: With iOS, Android, Windows Phone and a slew of other mobile platforms to go up against, there are simply too many choices for developers. The OS market has become diluted, and rather than have half a hand in a variety of OS pots, many developers are choosing to align themselves with just one. Unfortunately for RIM, it simply hasn't built up a dedicated developer base as robust as Google's or Apple's.
"In the mobile world, you can't have too many platforms because the power of network effects is going to drive the market toward a smaller number of platforms so that applications can have more economies of scale," Cusumano said. "So developers are not going to write apps if there are half a dozen de-compatible platforms. They are going to start choosing. And they have already been choosing Android and Apple, and pushing out RIM."
RIM is slated to launch a new OS, BlackBerry 10, next year. Unlike its predecessors, the new OS will come equipped with an Android app player, allowing users to download Android apps onto their BlackBerry smartphones. While this perhaps could pull in new users and broaden its developer community, Cusumano thinks RIM's best bet is to form alliances or a "coalition" with other tech companies to really push its platform forward.
Following a "strength-in-numbers" line of thinking, he suggested RIM team up with other tech giants struggling to fight back against market leaders Google and Apple, such as Nokia or even Microsoft. Together, they may be able to pool resources to create a more viable third competitor.
"Otherwise," he said, "[RIM] could just sink back into being a smaller-focused, product company selling email devices."
The new OS, which originally was scheduled to launch this fall until RIM delayed it in June, also will arm future BlackBerry devices with touch-capable keyboards and a revamped camera.
Cusumano and Crittendon both feel that RIM could have avoided its market nosedive if it had opened its doors to change and paid more attention to its rivals. Once an industry leader and symbol for entrepreneurial success, RIM no longer produces technology that stays "in front." And in a market as fast-moving as mobility, staying in front is key.
Both academics agreed that without the addition of outside influences, a major strategic overhaul, or an operating system that attracts new customers, RIM's efforts today may simply be, in the words of Cusumano, "too little, too late."
"Financially, it's not yet a crisis. But, the trajectory is clearly headed there," Crittendon said. "And in order to change that trajectory, to move it in a different direction, they're going to have to think very differently than they have so far."
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