Platform transitions are almost always "do or die"

Waiting is the Hardest Part!
By Chris Umiastowski on 22 Jun 2012 03:31 pm EDT
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Yesterday when I was at the BlackBerry 10 Jam in Toronto, a couple of us were chatting at the back of the room when a reporter from the legacy news world came up to us asking our opinion of BlackBerry and the situation they are in.

He was a nice enough fellow, although I'm pretty sure he was recording the group's entire conversation without permission. Whatever.

Because I talk too much, as CrackBerry Adam would agree, I volunteered my opinion to this reported. I said something along the lines of how RIM is in a tough position, but they're doing the right things and BlackBerry 10 looks really promising. I pointed towards the middle of the packed room and said, "Just look at all these people who have come here because they see a future for RIM."

He came back with a very specific question, and one that I think is interesting. "Do you think it's do or die for RIM?"

Clearly this reporter felt that it was, indeed, do or die for the Canadian tech giant. What's a guy to say in response to a reporter asking such a question?

I started by agreeing with him. RIM is making a platform transition. Most of the time, when a company makes such a transition, it either works or it has devastating negative effects on the company. In other words, technology transitions are do or die pretty much by definition.

Fail the transition, and it's like failing to cross a burning bridge. You die.

The difference here is that RIM is making a transition a few years later than it should have. The move is in retaliation to a market that changed. It's not a proactive move.

Who remembers when Apple moved from PowerPC to Intel chips? It wasn't that long ago, having been announced in 2005 and completed by the end of 2006. Apple executed perfectly. But what if they had screwed it up? It could have spelled disaster for the Mac maker. Of course nobody talked about it in that light because Apple was doing relatively well at the time.

The "do or die" discussion only seems to come up when a company is making a technology transition as a reactive, rather than a proactive move. But that doesn't make it more risky. If anything it's less risky because doing nothing (rather than reacting with a product transition) is a certain death. Companies who fail with a proactive product transition face more downside risk.

So sure, RIM can be thought of as being in a "do or die" position. So has pretty much any pure play technology company that went through a major product transition.

Oh, and from what I see from the BlackBerry 10 demos on the dev alpha hardware, RIM is doing.

Reader comments

Platform transitions are almost always "do or die"

40 Comments

One can view RIM as a transitioning company. Or one can view RIM as a new company starting from scratch. Either way, it is not business as usual.

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it is a do or die for RIM considering how far behind they are in the market and how many heavy hitters are competing right now.

RIM will pull through. I am certain.

I am not so sure. The key IMO is that they have to keep enterprise and government happy with continued top notch security for them to upgrade to BB10 quickly. That will get the ball rolling. The consumer will be more wait and see with BB10 I think, just like with the Nokia Windows phones - An initial bump but now heavy discounting and slow sales.

I don't see what the fuss is all about, they are working round the clock to bring out an exciting product, the competition have already played their hand and so RIM should understand what's in front of them. Once the AGM is over, the stock option pricing is set, the company can go ahead and start their promotional cycle. There isn't much more time to bring bits of information to the market before they launch Playbook II and BB 10. It's killing us to wait but that's because we haven't seen anything about their new products. A cool keyboard, swiping and a camera function is all that we have to go on, not the other 200 improvements they have planned for us. Nobody at RIM wants to see this company die, that isn't their focus.

RIM has to provide a new product to move forward. There wasn't really an option to continue with the previous software. It's really a simple decision but one that needs to be executed correctly. Good to hear they are making moves in the right direction.

About tech transitions:

When any company "does" they have a chance to die, a chance to live.
For RIM to "not do" would have been certain death.

Chris is right about there being different kinds of transitions, proactive and reactive. For a company contemplating a proactive tech transition the calculation is much more difficult. RIM's choice was easy.

The difference is RIM is doing this in an era where any Tom, Dick and Harry who owns a domain name posts opinion pieces as concrete facts and it is harder to tell fanboy fantasy from researched news everywhere you look. Tones are polar opposites. That is just the way things are. RIM have to realise this and deal with it. They recently hired a CMO who should be dealing with this amongst other things.
Which reminds me, I wonder what the CMO (he can't have had anything to do with the people who "do" ads) and COO (well one supplier has been dispensed with already so he has made his presence felt) have been up to since taking office.
This guy you spoke to is actually doing some research at least (with or without permission to record). Even if he eventually writes an article whose crux is opinion he has seen/heard stuff first hand. These are the credible guys and I hope they do not sugar coat or exaggerate what they see for the sake of RIM.
Of course RIM is aware the media is looking into the Jam sessions. They would be dumb to expect anything else.

What a lame article, the article is about "platform transitions" and you failed to bring up any relevant specific examples. The Apple example isn't even analogous since that "transition" had very little effect on the end user experience. You say "Platform Transitions are almost always do or die", please give us some examples to support your assertion, or are you just making it up as you go?

P.S. I'm not arguing whether your assertion is true or not, I'm just taking issue with your presentation!

As a strong believer that RIM is doing and not dying, I back them 100% by continuing to buy the products and investing in the company. I'm far less impressed with the short-sighted views of speculating analysts, and truly uninformed trendy consumers. And its sad that security has taken a back seat to minimal updates that Blackberry has had for years. Let me get off my soap box.

RIM will succeed much to the surprise of those that can't see beyond their blinders. As for the trendy iBelievers....I slap iTrolls daily with facts.

Also a proud owner of a Blackberry Playbook
www.xposeur.zenfolio.com

I too have invested in the company. I don't have a smartphone but plan to buy the new blackberry when it comes out. As for the stock, it looks tough right now but hang in there. If you have a lot of shares you could trade them each day to gain a better position each week. I bought up at 13.37, and I'm not worried. With the volatility, you could gain $12 plus a share within a year, and it woulod be like you own it for free.I have not traded it yet, but this is very feasible. Also, one morning people might wake up and find out RIM has a buyout offer for much higher than it currently trades, and the shorts will be burned to a crisp. I prefer though that the company rebounds on their own and takes back market share. Best wishes!!.........

The words here state, is it do or die for RIM? No, I don't believe so. Is it do or die for BlackBerry? Yes. Even if BlackBerry goes bye-bye, I believe that RIM owns enough other companies, patents, and intellectual properties to survive as itself. It can license out TAT, it can give QNX to other mobile OEMs, and it can use its infrastructure for other reasons. My $0.02.

"Platform Transitions are almost always do or die", just like when a sports teams screws up their 1st round draft pick(s), it sets the organization back years. A good example is the Portland Trailblazers (NBA). They picked Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984, then in 2007 they picked Greg Oden over Kevin Durant..... They haven't been the same every since.

I can't stand the previous examples in tech as the answer to every situation without considering all the variables involved. As an example Sony has adopted android and has seen limited success with it so assuming that any hardware manufacture that adopts android in going to be successful is wrong.

Stop talking so much just get the apps and get the f*cken thing done and watch and see what happens.

RIM has to bring everything they have on launch of BB10. This trnasitions is wayyy too late.. If they don't deliver. What's left to RIM would be just loyal customers and ppl who has no choice but to use it bec. Their company told them to.. There will loose customer and new customers will not even bother to try bb phones even if its for free.. BRING EVERYTHING, NO HOLD BACK. DON'T SAVE ANYTHING.. RELEASE IT ALL...!!!!!!

"Platform Transitions are almost always do or die." Sorry, no.

Many technologies undergo "platform transitions" from time to time. Microsoft has undergone a few, the automotive business goes through them all the time. Generally, they're certainly risky, but you're rarely betting the company on them.

In this case, yes, BB10 really IS "do or die", because there's no real fall-back. RIM is essentially a mobile company. Even Apple has several different lines of business to fall back on in the event one product fails. RIM, though, is now extremely vulnerable. This is one of those "failure is not an option" scenarios.

I also object to this "proactive vs. reactive" argument; presumably ANY platform migration is embarked on because a company recognizes that a new platform will serve its customers better. If you look back, it's fairly clear that RIM recognized the need for a new platform some time ago. The problem is not that this was a "reactive" change, it's that they didn't properly account for just how much time it would take to stitch together the pieces they'd bought (i.e. QNX & TAT)

RIM made a number of strategic errors, which as you say include not responding to the larger touch screen smart phones quickly enough.

But the biggest blunders were a. putting all their eggs in the Playbook basket and missing a product cycle on the BBOS phones as a result b. pre-announcing BB10 when it was going to be 2 years before they could release a product and c. expanding staffing levels too quickly a few years ago which has resulted in their margins being reduced markedly.

Mistake a. cost them several poor quarters last year, and along with b. is the primary cause of this years bad news (though that also appears to be strategic). They simply haven't valued their existing product and customer base enough.

Had RIM kept quiet on BB10, and gone through the current cost review and downsizing early enough, sales would have been maintained, costs would have fallen, margins would have been increased, and their numbers would have looked a lot better this year.

I don't think they're in a "do or die" situation. Acquisitions mean RIM has diversified considerably over the past few years and they could probably reinvent themselves as a software company - or perhaps even doing specialist hardware for home automation or similar. Assuming they didn't want to carry on being a manufacturer (niche or otherwise) of smartphones.

RIM has attracted a lot of negative PR from individuals with vested interests and that has clearly had an impact on their brand image. But my guess is they'll still be making phones 10 years from now.

Do or Die...its more like GO FOR BROKE! They have to do everything to push harder than they ever have, and they are doing just that. People forget that when a company finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place they either step up and DO more or they don't do enough (i.e Palm). Had Palm made better hardware to complement their outstanding software more people would be talking about having five platforms in market instead of there being only room for three.

So I firmly believe that RIM has a chance but just like the supporters of RIM the media has to just wait to see what comes from their last couple years of work. You don't look at the shell and say that it does not have a chance...You look at the finish product and go from there. The PlabyBook, Dev Alaph devices were the shell of whats to come. So to take a do or die approach at this point is not unwarranted but a bad choice of words. Its completely Go for Broke time.

I agree with the other posts that the comparison to Apple's transition from Power-PC to Intel is not applicable here. The OS and a great majority of software offered first on Intel chips worked on Power PC and continued to do so until Snow Leopard was introduced 4 years later. BB10 will not work on anything made prior by RIM (phone wise - I know PlayBook will be upgadable to BB10 soon after the BB10 phone is released) nor will software written for any BB7 and earlier phone work on BB10. I wonder if Apple said to their users at WWDC in 2005 everything you have won't work when the Intel computers come out, and the computer you bought 2 months ago won't be upgradable - how that would have gone. (My guess - not well).

As to the quote "Platform transitions are almost always do or die, guess who agreed...

"No other technology company other than Apple has successfully transitioned their platform," he said.

"It's almost never done, and it's way harder than you realise. This transition is where tech companies go to die." -- Jim Basille, November 2011.

And I believe the Apple transition of the platform is more about neXt than power-pc.

Agreed the big Apple transition was to the NeXt based Mac OS X but even there Apple maintained backwards compatibility.

However, what RIM is doing is closer to what Palm tried to do and what MS/Nokia is also now trying. If RIM does succeed, they may be the only pre-iPhone smartphone company to do so. It's possible though that MS finally get some traction with WP8 and wins third place. If they do, RIM has a big problem.

Samsung, HTC, LG

All have multiple platforms available at any one time.

Transitioning seems easy enough for some.

They aren't transitioning, they are selling other people's platforms. They are basically hardware OEMs.

*yawn*

I love how tvs can do Skype and the playbook can't.
Like not even icq.

When your flagship device can't perform features a windowsME pc or television can you have issues.
What's a bigger issue tho? The fact we see more articles of this nature vs articles that would put pressure on rim to step up in delivering apps that would get em back in the limelight?
Nintendo had Mario and Sega had sonic.
Ps3 yes is technically better then the 360 like pb is wit ipad.
But xbox live owns. And Mario owns. And drawsomething owns. It's all about the experience.

Oh I hated that stupid music video before the show... "The waiiittttinggg is the hardest part... " lol

That's why I've always had a deep respect for IBM, with two platform changes and still going strong. Timing is key, and in an industry where time means changes everyday, every half day even...

License or die! Even your enterprise market is losing ground with BYOD and now Windows phone 8 gonna take a chunk of that too with its encryption an secure boot.

Given that Apple got badly burned licensing, and Microsoft has decided to go with its own tablets and not licence Windows 8 to OEMs, what is the logic behind your position?

Drama. Lots of it. I'm waiting for RIM to kick Apple and 'Droid to the curb...or die trying.

I feel that RIM does need to pick up the ball and get on board a bit quicker. I feel like they have been riding the 'QXN on BB phones are coming soon!' train for a bit longer that most people would want to wait for.

I love the blackberry products, but it sucks waiting and waiting, and then releasing phones without QNX and told to keep waiting. The playbook was a nice layover, but it still lacked the magic and i feel like it could have had so much more.

And RIM has seemed to be just one small step behind the others with the extended functions of the phone.

Most of my friend have switched, and i have thought about it, just because i have grown tired of waiting. But I will wait to see what the BB10 phones have in store completely.

So for me, it is kind of a do or die situation for BB, I love them, but they really need to pick up the ball and get in the game already.

First it was our beloved RIM, and now Nokia, it seems it is do or die all around. I am putting my trust in BB w/ BB10, Windows 8 seems dead coming out of the door.

Blackberry 10 or not, RIM is already in a do or die position and has been for a while now. Personally, after watching the demise of Palm, I'm of the opinion that this is too little too late and RIM will slowly (or not so slowly) fade from relevance. Looking back, they are, right now, where they needed to be 2 years ago, The former management failed to react to the marketplace and assumed that Blackberry would always be the business handheld leader. Turns out that they were wrong, Then they over promised and under delivered especially on things like the Playbook. Then they played the "All is well" tactic as the stock tanked. Finally there is a sense of urgency, but when you wait until the house is completely engulfed in flames, you usually only save the basement.

Unless Blackberry 10 blows away everything else in what it can do, I suspect the consumer will react with a yawn and then buy an iPhone or Android. It's too bad, but RIM isn't the first company that rode it's laurels right into oblivion.

face it if it aint got skype or netflix its done.... they need to stop playing with ppl... all i need is skype for f*cking sake