Big Idea: RIM Should Build BlackBerry Smartphones Running Android

RIM should license Android. Sound foolhardy? Consider how well that strategy has served Samsung in the consumer space. Galaxy S III sales have been off the charts, second only to the Apple iPhone 5 in terms of buzz, retail turnover for 2012.

RIM BlackBerry 7290: Back in the day, hands down the best messaging device on the planet. What happened? Apps happened.
RIM BlackBerry 7290: Back in the day, hands down the best messaging device on the planet. What happened? Apps happened.

How about RIM re-tools its BlackBerry brand as a flagship option for Enterprise Android?

Crazy idea? Assuredly. Then again, based on RIM’s latest financials, throwing a Hail Mary is not entirely out of the question. The company needs to make major strategic changes, not simply follow the continued path of financial destruction.

Currently RIM makes both hardware and software. A devastating scenario for a company with increasingly limited resources, and in the throws of downsizing (management just announced it will layoff 30% of the workforce, or about 3,000 employees). In the consumer mobile space it appears that only Apple can pull off the vertical integration move. Even Google relies on partners – though, granted, its Motorola Mobility acquisition changes that. Both of those companies, however, are sitting on massive cash reserves and are profitable.

Though its loyalty is plummeting, RIM can still bank on a die-hard base of customers who love its chiclet keyboards, business-class design traditionally found on BlackBerries. Many a BB is still seen on Capitol Hill. No doubt, the App Parade, led by Apple and the iPhone, but followed very closely by Google and Android, is rapidly suffocating RIM, but the company has a core business it should retrench to, and embrace.

So why not? RIM should abandon its in-house mobile operating system, and license it from Google instead, and start making enterprise-class smartphones running Android.

If you think that sounds foolhardy, consider how well that strategy has served Samsung in the consumer space. Galaxy S III sales have been off the charts, second only to the Apple iPhone 5 in terms of buzz, retail turnover for 2012.

Just as Samsung skins its smartphones with TouchWiz, RIM could skin an enterprise version of the BlackBerry. It would come set to go with VPN, corporate email, enterprise cloud.

Though I propose RIM abandon its OS, under this radical scenario it would still make messaging servers, and sell those into IT organizations across the Fortune 500. That would continue to be its secret sauce, and the ticket for lucrative, large deals. Security, performance, and application integration could be defining points that help the company win business against the consumer-focused players such as Apple and Samsung.

Like Amazon, RIM could open an enterprise-class App store built on Android. Apps would be highly vetted, and scrutinized so that they meet the highest enterprise standards for security, performance, and scale where necessary.

Would it work?

Odds are extremely long, of course, and for a plan as extreme as this to have any chance of success would have required its execution at least 18-24 months ago. Instead, CEO Thorsten Heins appears to be doubling down on the current strategy which involves vertical integration; making both hardware and software. For a company on the ropes that appears to be a recipe for disaster.

This is a market dominated by Google ($249B market cap) and Apple ($628B). And Samsung ($198B). Then there’s Microsoft ($258B) in the wings with its Windows 8 campaign set for a big Q4 launch. How on earth will a small declining tech company like RIM ($3.8B) rebound without thinking outside the box?

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  • Sam

    If they started making phones that run Android, they’d probably go out of business sooner than later. Have you not seen their phone releases in the past few years? Their BB Torch was supposed to compete with the iPhone 4 and higher end Android phones such as the HTC Evo and Samsung Galaxy variants. Not only was the BB Torch bigger, thicker, and slower, but it had a horrible screen resolution. HTC cannot compete with Samsung on the phone manufacturing side. Just look at the BB 10, it looks too thick. And if they run Android, they’re probably going to get sued by Apple as well. However, I can see them stop manufacturing phones altogether and end up licensing their Enterprise software. So you can have BBM or BIS via an Android or IOS app.

    • Sam

      I meant to say RIM cannot compete with Samsung.

    • I think RIM is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s going to be near impossible to convince large scale development on the BB 10 platform. And as you point out they’ve had more than their fair share of hardware design misses. But surely they can’t do both h/w and s/w? I’d let loose the OS (but keep dev on enterprise server BBM/BIS, and apps) and focus on an Android-based hardware solution combing their know-how in messaging, security, scale. I believe the consumer play for them is all but dead.

  • Paul

    This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

    1 – Start (or pick up) development of a secure Android kernel. It’s okay if your software stays back one or two versions (ICS instead of JB, or GB instead of ICS) because that’s not relevant to its core functionality
    2 – Set up iptables (or whatever they’d like) to route important traffic (email, or all internet traffic, or whatever BlackBerrys normally do) through their secure servers (thus still providing their secure servers, BBM service, and/or whatever else)
    3 – Make (and be known for) superior quality hardware, and business-oriented design, with superior keyboards (or not), high quality speakerphones (for conference calls), and a Vibrate/Loud switch like iPhone had…. they can be known for this.

    This can transform Blackberry into the modern age. They can use normal and common apps that everyone desires (while revoking and managing app permissions more tightly, and/or restricting their access to certain internet traffic to keep it secure) and provide the quality hardware, security, and business-oriented products that they are known for.

    Just ABANDON YOUR OS! Android is open, and you CAN make it secure. It takes development. Get going. You’re going to die if you don’t, Blackberry…