Sign of the times

[RIM] said on Tuesday that it will launch its new Mobile Fusion device management software in the first quarter, allowing corporate IT staff to set and monitor rules for passwords, apps and software on a range of devices, including Apple’s iPad and iPhone, and smartphones using Google’s Android operating system.

via RIM to offer security features on iPhone, Androids | Reuters.

If you don’t read Asymco, I highly recommend doing so. Horace Dediu and Dirk Schmidt do an excellent job of piecing together the mobile industry numbers: sales, revenue, profit, market share, platform stickiness. Data analysis done carefully, thoughtfully, and in recognition of the limitations[*] of forecasting.

One clear trend emerging from Asymco’s analysis: RIM is in trouble. These days it’s hard to find anyone who will argue against that proposition, but when Horace first began beating the drum, it was a much more controversial assertion. Sales and profit were still growing, but the growth curves did not match the overall industry’s.

For RIM to actively market itself as an enterprise vendor of MDM (mobile device management) products for other companies’ mobile devices is a reflection of both their strength and their weakness. Clearly, big business still relies heavily on BlackBerry devices, but BYOD (bring your own device) and tablet computing both play well to Apple’s strengths and RIM’s weaknesses. RIM, I believe, is making a smart bet that they can remain in place as an enterprise support vendor even if their traditional customers rely less on them for smartphones. Managing mobile devices is hard, and RIM has a strong track record to point to.

One (extremely unlikely) way RIM could make a major dent in new corporate mobility paradigm is to hijack both Android and Apple devices to make them behave more like BlackBerry smartphones. In either case it would take significant under-the-hood changes that Apple in particular would object to, but the recent progress developers have made in creating Siri proxies without jailbreaking the iPhone 4S hints at what RIM could do to make iPhones plug into the BES ecosystem, which I think many large companies would be interested in.

Ask Novell how challenging it is to maintain market and mindshare when big business decides your competition is “good enough,” and easier to buy and use. If they can pull a rabbit out of their hat with future mobile devices that businesses and consumers really want, they can remain a significant force in the device manufacturing space. If not, I think they’re destined for an IBM-like transition to services, albeit as a much smaller company than either IBM or RIM today.

* Horace likes to point out how bad the industry analysts are at predicting the future, and tends to be very conservative in his own prognostications.

Examples of his reviews of questionable analysis:

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