Note to RIM: Image is Everything

Carl Weinschenk

RIM better watch out. The company-more formally known as Research in Motion-and its BlackBerry device have long led the corporate mobile e-mail category. Its crown seems secure for now, but serious competition is emerging seemingly on a daily basis. It can't help that, nor can it help the fact that users want far more than e-mail in their mobile devices.


But what it can do something about is high-profile outages, and it doesn't help that the company has experienced two in less than a week.

The first outage, on Dec. 17, impacted non-enterprise BlackBerry subscribers to all four major U.S. carriers and Rogers, the largest Canadian carrier. This PC World story describes the problem and highlights incidents in 2007 and 2008. The story provides reasons for the earlier two outages-a new software routine (2007) and problems with capacity expansion (2008).


Last week's incident, according to PCMag, impacted BlackBerry Messenger and was related to two new versions of the Messenger software. RIM urged those who upgraded Messenger after Dec. 14 to switch to version Texting and call functions weren't affected, the story says.

Both recent outages, as well as those that occurred in 2007 and last year, may be explained in a way that makes sense to engineers. The explanations may not shine a poor light on RIM. But the "optics" are bad, as the political pundits say when something justifiable occurs that leaves a bad perception nonetheless.

BlackBerry may be the gold standard for enterprise e-mail, but it is surviving on a reputation that was built in another day when there was less stress and less competition. That day was before the iPhone, before the Palm Pre and before the Droid and other highly functional Android and proprietary devices.

I am not an engineer and cannot say whether RIM's game has slipped or not. The reality is, however, that most of the people making ultimate buying decisions aren't engineers, either. It behooves the company to keep it from looking like it is slipping. Despite a move into the consumer sector, its core customers still are business folks with low tolerances for bad performance, whether it is real, imaginary or a combination of the two.

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