RIM’s recent worldwide service outage that put its BlackBerry users out of touch with their handheld devices was a devastating blow to the company’s future prospects, but how much of a deciding factor it becomes still remains to be seen. RIM’s demise was apparently predicted prior to the outage, as surveys painted a not-so bright future for the BlackBerry maker. It could be said, however, that the outage was icing on the cake and enough to push already disgruntled BlackBerry users towards RIM’s competitors.
Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), an IT research firm, conducted a study on smartphone satisfaction in September, approximately one month prior to the RIM service outage. After surveying 243 smartphone users employed by companies with over 10,000 workers, EMA found that 30 percent of BlackBerry users planned to change to a different smartphone in 2012. The study also noted that 11 percent of BlackBerry users said they were completely dissatisfied with their service. That may seem like a minority, but when compared to a two percent level of dissatisfaction among iPhone users and a zero percent level among Android users, it spells trouble for RIM.
Steven Brasen, the EMA analyst in charge of the study, commented on its findings: "With last week's outage, I suspect the 30 percent number is even higher. User satisfaction with BlackBerry is by far the lowest of smartphones. A huge number are dissatisfied."
According to Brasen, such end-user opinions play a major part in determining the smartphone choices being made by IT executives, which could mean bad news for RIM. He said: “Now that end users are taking control, they are moving away from BlackBerry. It's the end users that are driving IT.”
In addition to EMA, Forrester and other IT research firms have confirmed the importance of end-user opinions in the smartphone race. Many workplaces are now allowing employees to use smartphones of their own for business purposes and are reimbursing them for any associated costs as well. The freedom to choose smartphones on their own has many end-users drifting towards RIM’s competitors for various reasons. “The apps are not available on the BlackBerry like they are on the other smartphones and users feel more personally productive on iPhone and Android than with corporate BlackBerry devices,” Brasen noted.
As end-users navigate towards Apple and Android with their more robust app stores, the importance and appeal of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s capabilities in the realms of management and security has diminished, said Brasen. Such features attracted many large companies in the first place, but now that end-user employees are free to roam when smartphone shopping, things have changed.
RIM is trying to keep up with the competition, and took a step forward recently by introducing its new BBX operating system at the BlackBerry DevCon conference. The OS was supposed to have launched in June, but delays kept it under wraps until now. Unfortunately for RIM, it is likely a case of too little, too late. Brasen added, “I don't see how RIM can radically alter the path they've been on.” BBX is set to run BlackBerry smartphones, embedded systems, and the PlayBook tablet device. RIM has not released a specific timetable on its release, however, which has many of the company’s followers perturbed, to say the least. A quick look at the Crackberry.com forums revealed voices of displeasure on the topic. One forum member who goes by the moniker of HofstraJet posted the following: “Just look at all of the chatter and disappointment ... regarding the BBX announcement. RIM has made a lot of promises and hasn't delivered much. I anxiously await the future [and] just hope RIM doesn't make me wait too long.”
Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner, agreed with EMA’s findings that suggested BlackBerry users would look to switch to other smartphones in the future. He noted that RIM’s main focus should not be on maintaining existing customers, but rather securing new ones in emerging markets.
As for the recent service outage and its effects on customers’ feelings about RIM, they seem to be mixed. A BlackBerry devices manager at a large university in the southern United States gave RIM a pass, stating: “RIM has worked extensively with us to accomplish our desired operations and we will continue using their technology for our project. We hope that RIM's future plans and developments continue to grow their products and services.”
Other customers were not so forgiving. Melvin Goodyear, an infrastructure analyst with Newfoundland Power in Canada, said the outage has caused the company to begin searching for smartphone alternatives to supply its 200 users.
The outage certainly did not help BlackBerry’s fading popularity, and the growth of smartphone competitors in the form of Apple, Motorola, Samsung, and more has given RIM plenty of reasons to worry. IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said: “My belief is that enterprises that have been looking for other solutions will use the most recent outage as their biggest reason to make the change. I've heard several smaller enterprises make this very remark, and I'm sure they're not the only ones.”