Apple and IBM get it, so why can't RIM?

IBM and Apple give customers what they want, whether it's a mainframe or a tablet -- but RIM gives customers what they used to want

I've tried to stay away from the "RIM is dead" mantra chanted by so many tech writers. But a new survey by ChangeWave Research (coupled with the company's earlier work) is so convincingly negative that I'm all but ready to give up on the once-dominant BlackBerry provider.

Tellingly, the bad news for Research in Motion comes in a week when two other bellwether technology companies -- Apple and IBM -- had terrific quarters. In this context, though, the news isn't financial; it's about customer satisfaction. IBM, a 100-year-old company, received a very solid boost from the uncoolest technology in the digital world: mainframes. Apple, of course, flew high on two very cool products: iPhones and iPads.

[ InfoWorld's Galen Gruman argues that for RIM, the fat lady has already sung. | Keep up with the key tech news and analysis with the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Apple and IBM -- two very, very different companies -- have learned to listen to their customers and give them what they want, whether it's a stodgy mainframe or a supercool tablet. Actually, IBM has spent real money improving its mainframes, but that only underlines my point. Big Blue's products satisfy its customers. RIM's don't.

And if RIM doesn't learn that lesson, it really will be dead.

RIM customers can't get no satisfaction
Smartphone users, says ChangeWave research director Paul Carton, "don't want to be somewhat satisfied, they want to very satisfied." And that's exactly where RIM falls down.

In a survey of smartphone users conducted this spring, ChangeWave found that 7 out of 10 iPhone owners were "very satisfied" with their device. That led the industry, whereas RIM was way down in the rankings at just 27 percent. The only major device makers that fared worse were Nokia, Palm, and Sony Ericsson.

Given those numbers, it shouldn't have been a surprise when a survey released this week asking users who said they were planning to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days, found that almost no one will shell out dollars for a RIM BlackBerry. Apple led at 46 percent, with the various smartphones based on Google's Android totaled 32 percent. And RIM? Only 4 percent planned to buy a BlackBerry.

Drilling down into these numbers shows that RIM customers have become less and less satisfied over the years. Exactly three years ago, satisfaction among RIM owners peaked at 55 percent, only to decline steadily year after year -- with one telling exception. From June to September 2010, satisfaction inched up by 2 points (or 6.7 percent) to 32 percent. Why? RIM introduced the BlackBerry Torch, which gave customers something new, says Carton.

But it's been downhill since then. "You've got to get your customers really excited. If they'd accomplished that, RIM would be in better shape. But they failed and are missing the cool factor," Carton tells me.

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