LAS VEGAS — A lot can change in a year. Just ask Research In Motion Ltd.
One year ago, Canada’s top technology company set out to make an impression on the technology world on the industry’s biggest stage, the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
RIM went all out to ensure the company was on the tip of everyone’s tongue on the show floor, erecting a huge BlackBerry booth and bringing in celebrities like Adrian Grenier and Olivia Wilde to help draw crowds.
Front and centre was the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM’s answer to Apple Inc.’s iPad, one of the most hotly anticipated touchscreen tablets set to debut in 2011.
CES 2011 marked the unofficial coming out party for the PlayBook, as RIM gave technology journalists and the rest of the industry their first chance to get their hands on the company’s first touchscreen tablet computer, helping to build buzz around RIM’s iPad competitor.
Of course, the rest is history. The buzz was short lived, and RIM’s PlayBook stumbled out of the gate when it was first launched in April en route to a disappointing year. Despite initial analyst projections that RIM would sell anywhere between two and six million PlayBooks in its first year on the market, RIM has shipped less than one million in its first three quarters of sales.
Now, with the company in turmoil, shares down 75% from a year ago and the next generation of BlackBerry devices delayed until at least the second half of 2012, RIM is employing a different strategy this year at CES, one which places the company’s developer partners in the spotlight.
RIM isn’t expected to unveil any new hardware this year at CES, nor are observers anticipating a glimpse of BB 10, the software which will power the next generation of BlackBerry devices.
Instead, RIM is expected to focus on software, namely the PlayBook OS 2.0 update, which is due to arrive in February, and the BlackBerry 7 OS which powers the Waterloo, Ont.-based company’s current generation of BlackBerry smartphones.
The PlayBook OS 2.0 software is expected to fix many of the lingering issues surrounding the PlayBook, including the lack of native email and calendar support.
Although the new PlayBook 2.0 software won’t include BlackBerry Messenger, it is expected to finally enable PlayBook owners to download and use applications built for Google Inc.’s Android service on the device.
When RIM announced back in October that it would be delaying PlayBook 2.0 until February, the company also mentioned it would be launching a new video store, which may finally be unveiled at CES.
When the CES show floor opens on Tuesday, expect RIM’s booth to prominently feature applications — especially those that integrate with RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger — developed by its partners.
An event invitation RIM sent out to various technology journalists dubbed “Be Bold at CES” suggests RIM’s focus over the next week in Las Vegas will be on reaching out to developers.
According to the invitation, Alec Saunders, RIM’s vice president of developer relations, and Martyn Mallick, vice president of global alliances will “be on hand to show how BlackBerry provides the best app platform in the industry today with BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 and BlackBerry 7 OS.”
When Mr. Saunders made his first public appearance for RIM back at the company’s developer conference in San Francisco in October, he went to great lengths to extol the virtues of RIM’s platform, including telling developers that BlackBerry is the second most profitable application market in mobile, and that 13% of BlackBerry developers are generation more than $100,000 from their products. It would appear Tuesday’s announcement may feature more of the same.
With RIM’s transition to the BB 10 platform — the QNX powered software that will eventually power all of RIM’s smartphones and PlayBook tablets — delayed until the second half of 2012, the pressure will be on RIM to sell PlayBook 2.0 and BlackBerry OS 7 to the technology community as it waits for its long awaited transition to occur.
Last year, RIM came to Las Vegas, placed a big bet, and came up short. This year, the company is playing its cards a little bit more conservatively, hoping a new strategy will pay off.