No sale: Why a new owner can't save the BlackBerry

A new CEO promises more of the same, so some investors call for RIM to be sold. Here's why that is a bad idea for troubled RIM

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On the other hand, RIM has seen embarassing service outages in its network in recent months, causing all messages to stop dead in their tracks as the network fell over. And several countries -- including the United States -- have insisted on access to the RIM servers through backdoors so that they can look for criminals, rebels, and other undesirables, thus making the security value of RIM's network less appealing to the defense and spy communities that like the RIM network approach.

The RIM network also costs money to maintain, and that's an issue for any would-be buyer. And outside of IT and a few spooks, users don't buy BlackBerrys for its network security.

Two-factor authentication

Some BlackBerry models support two-factor authentication; that is, you enter a code sent to a separate device when accessing a secured resource from your BlackBerry to better prove the BlackBerry isn't stolen and the user actually is who the user says he or she is. Although some Windows Mobile devices in the past featured a similar capability, today only RIM offers two-factor authentication support.

Again, this is an issue for IT and a small percentage of users. A variety of vendors are trying to bring two-factor authentication, or something close enough, to Android and iOS.

The BlackBerry value is limited to a small world of users

All this shows that the traditional BlackBerry's unique strengths -- as groundbreaking as they once were -- aren't as relevant to today's users. A small subset of the market really does need the security strengths of a BlackBerry, and duplicating those in iOS, Android, or even Windows Phone won't be easy. After all, BES has the advantage of having a simpler universe to manage than the more modern, app-oriented platforms people now want; securing a messaging device is much easier than securing what is in essence a portable computer. Just ask any Windows admin.

Users also expect more freedom and flexibility in a device that feels like a computer -- and their managers like to exploit those capabilities, so IT is less able to force severe controls (à la BES) on devices seen as multipurpose minicomputers. As IT makes the mind shift from phone-as-emailer to phone-as-computer, it also makes the shift to thinking about control more in PC terms. And let's be honest: Less control is typically asserted over a PC than over a BlackBerry, making it hard to justify BlackBerry-like control over iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices. (Yes, there are highly controlled PC environments out there; I'm speaking of the typical situations.)

That is really RIM's problem: Its value belongs to a different age and a different environment. No buyout can change that fact. That's why RIM keeps talking about focusing on consumers, despite its historic IT orientation. Thus the BlackBerry reboot effort. (Given the dominance of iOS and Android among consumers and Microsoft's renewed, consumer-oriented push in mobile, whether there's enough room for RIM's purportedly consumer-oriented BlackBerry 10 is a fair but separate question.)

If RIM's BlackBerry reboot works to make it relevant and compelling in today's enviroment, the company won't need a buyer. If the reboot fails, any buyer will want just its patent portfolio, customer list, and perhaps brand -- to strip it, not save it. Either way, hoping for a white knight to rescue RIM is at best wishful thinking.

If you want RIM to rebound, wish not for a buyout but for a successful BlackBerry 10. And that will require real leadership, new thinking, and strong execution from within. That's RIM's real challenge.

This article, "No sale: Why a new owner can't save the BlackBerry," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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