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RIM's No Good, Very Bad Year: A Look Back at 2011

Few tech companies have had as many debacles, hiccups, and issues, or fallen so far in a single year as RIM has in 2011.

As the final days of 2011 tick away, there is one iconic tech company that is probably thankful this year is finally winding down. RIM has had an epic year -- in the tragic sense -- and has fallen precipitously from its once dominant place among mobile platforms.

RIM, and the BlackBerry devices that helped pioneer the smartphone era, have suffered from repeated blunders and mis-steps that could threaten the continued existence of RIM if things don’t change.

Here’s a look at RIM’s catastrophic 2011:

Half-Baked

RIM joined the tablet party this year with the launch of the seven-inch BlackBerry PlayBook. The device hit the street a week after the second-generation Apple iPad, received tepid reviews at best. RIM’s tablet is smaller than the iPad 2, yet the retail price was the same.

The operative word for describing the BlackBerry PlayBook seemed to be “half-baked.” Many analysts and users complained about the lack of core functionality -- like standalone email, calendar, and contact capabilities.

While some users swear by the RIM tablet, it has been a flop. RIM recently took a $485 million charge to write off losses related to unsold PlayBook inventory, but it hasn’t thrown in the towel just yet. A major update is expected in Q1 2012 that will hopefully reverse the anemic sales of the device.

Major Outage

BlackBerry users were left in the dark for four days in October following a switch failure. RIM is not alone in experiencing service outages, but RIM is unique in how it provides the backbone for email and messaging for its BlackBerry devices regardless of the wireless provider it is associated with. And, RIM is unique in having established the reputation of its brand on its mobile messaging capabilities.

So, when RIM suffers an outage, it has a very broad impact. And, when your once dominant mobile platform is already plummeting, the last thing you need is to give users more reason to jump ship.

Delays, and More Delays

2011 has been filled with delays for RIM. In June, RIM announced that the BlackBerry smartphones that were expected to launch would be delayed to upgrade the underlying hardware.

After revealing details of the next iteration of the BlackBerry OS and building anticipation of new BlackBerry devices built for the new platform, RIM announced that the next-generation devices will not hit the street until the end of 2012. In a highly competitive, and rapidly evolving industry such as mobile devices, it is virtual suicide to declare it will be almost a full year before users will see the new BlackBerry.

Stumbling

When RIM unveiled the new BlackBerry OS, it announced that it would combine the traditional BlackBerry platform with the QNX OS used on the PlayBook tablet, and that the new OS would be re-branded BBX. Unfortunately, RIM forgot to check if that name was available, and it lost a trademark battle over it. So, the BBX fanfare was replaced with the anti-climactic name “BlackBerry 10”.

Amidst all of these hiccups and setbacks, RIM also had to address a public relations mess when a RIM employee posted an anonymous open letter chastising the executive leadership for stifling innovation and ruining the company.

And, to close out the year, RIM fired two employees after they forced a flight to divert and were arrested for drunken conduct, and a RIM executive revealed that RIM itself is not really sure how many BlackBerry models are currently on the market.

With two CEOs, you’d hope that at least one of them would know what’s going on, and that between the two of them they could come up with a reasonable plan to remain competitive.

But, if 2012 looks anything like 2011, “competitive” will be very hard to achieve. Instead, RIM may struggle just to remain relevant.


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