Inside RIM building 8 sits a glass showcase featuring row upon row of old, bestselling BlackBerry smartphones and a three-year-old award that lauds the phones’ creator – Research in Motion – as “company of the year.” This manufacturing centre also houses guards who scrutinise visitor credentials and oversee an airport security-like area, where incomers must leave all of their electronic devices and any recording equipment. Even then, few people typically get clearance to this stage, let alone through a subsequent set of gates to see what the latest BlackBerrys look like behind closed doors.
RIM Building 8 is just one of the many sites sprinkled throughout Waterloo, Canada, where RIM’s shrunken employee base is desperately trying to create the next bestselling smartphone and survive a mobile era now dominated with software and handsets from Apple, Samsung and, increasingly, Google. On January 30, RIM’s new BlackBerry 10 software and phones will be unveiled in a global event that even senior executives at the company acknowledge will be a make-or-break moment.
“Failure is not an option,” Andrew MacLeod, managing director for RIM in Canada, says, in an exclusive interview with Arabian Business. “Our space is defined by innovation. It’s defined by competition,” MacLeod adds. “The good news, from our perspective, is we’re really bringing something special.”
RIM’s shareholders are certainly banking on hopes that this rings true in the marketplace. Once the tech titan of the smartphone sector, RIM’s stock slumped below (Canadian) $7 a share in 2012, down from a peak of more than $148 in 2008. At the same time, a growing number of businesses and organisations have announced plans to ditch the BlackBerry and embrace competing handsets. And, in December, RIM got yanked from a list of companies that make up the NASDAQ-100 index.
Yet there have been some recent signs of optimism as well. Some tech analysts have been upbeat about RIM’s prospects, at least for the short term, and takeover rumours have helped boost confidence among some investors. The company also boasts a loyal, albeit shrinking, fan base of customers who are eagerly awaiting a new device. “I purchased my first BlackBerry in 2006, and have had three BlackBerrys so far, and am just about to buy my fourth,” says Claire Mockridge, a postnatal fitness expert from Derbyshire, England.
One of RIM’s strongest markets in the world is the Middle East. More than double the number of subscribers from the region signed up for BlackBerry service through May of 2012, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the company. “Middle East has been, really, a key region,” says Mike Al Mefleh, director of product and platforms for RIM Middle East. “We are contributing in a big way to the success of the BlackBerry.”
RIM plans to focus even more attention on expanding its presence within the Middle East. Dubai, in fact, is set to be one of just a handful of cities that will host parallel events during the new BlackBerry software and handsets unveil at the end of January. The decision has local retail executives hoping the buzz will generate a surge in BlackBerry sales among all customer segments – and not just busy business types. Nadeem Khanzadah, head of retail for Jumbo Electronics, says the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 devices “look promising in terms of sales.”
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