BlackBerry at the Crossroads

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Smartphone Security: Alarming Complacency Among Mobile Users

Most consumers are unaware of the security risks associated with their smartphones.

Who knows? Perhaps it already was too late for BlackBerry and Research In Motion. If it wasn't, last week's worldwide outages may have sealed the deal. In any case, it certainly wasn't something to write home about for the company. And you probably would have had to write, since if you had a BlackBerry, you most likely couldn't have called home.


There is a truism that recognizes that everyone has problems and SNAFUs, but that the real test is the level of grace, honesty and elan with which they are handled. So far, RIM has not excelled. This commentary at InformationWeek by Jonathan Feldman discusses a press conference presided over by co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. Feldman suggests that there was little information provided, and that the two gentlemen were evasive.


RIM is, clearly, in a no-win situation. It is highly unlikely that much more substantive information was available on the day of the press conference than the day of the outage, which impacted Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, China, Argentina and the United States. The CEOs said that a switch failure and a faulty backup system led to the global meltdown. The key question, which Feldman posed well, probably couldn't have been answered even if more information was available and the two men were willing to answer it:

The question that many CIOs and CTOs are asking is, if architecture is planned out right, and testing occurred on a reasonably diligent basis, how exactly could that happen?

The problem for RIM is essentially straightforward: BlackBerry's reputation is built on its highly respected security and management. While the outage doesn't directly indict those qualities, both speak in a general sense to competency and professionalism. In a landscape in which it already was taking more of beating than the Milwaukee Brewers' starting pitchers, looking weak on what even detractors call a core strength is not good.


On Monday, RIM said that it would compensate consumer users with $100 of applications and provide a month of free technical support to enterprises. Again, the company is in a no-win situation, which figures to happen when your services fail miserably. It is unclear if free versions of Bejeweled and Texas Hold'em Poker 2 will placate angry users or make them feel that the company is subtly patronizing them. It is safe to assume that RIM didn't mean it in that way, but folks who couldn't reach their kids or call a tow truck when their car broke down likely won't give the carrier the benefit of the doubt due to the ability to download Bubble Bash 2 for free. (To be fair, there are some useful productivity apps in the makeup mix.)


All of this will make for some interesting hallway chatter at BlackBerrry DevCon Americas, which starts today in San Francisco. PRNewser has a press release offering four pieces of advice on how BlackBerry can recoup its losses. The company should "work on trust issues," try to recapture the public's imagination, ask people what they are thinking and talk a lot of its problems. Of course, the biggest piece of advice is to keep the network up and operating.

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