Filling RIM's app gap

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I don't know how to resuscitate Research in Motion. Maybe you don't either. We have to place our bets on the devils we know about: founding genius Mike Lazaridis, new CEO Thorsten Heins and the Ottawa connection.

(Stock image)

by Tony Patterson

Ottawa connection? For those who have been out of touch for the duration, the Ottawa connection comprises QNX, Alec Saunders and shades of Prem Watsa. You know the first two: QNX built RIM's operating system, known as BlackBerry 10. But it's not yet in the phones. (They're pushing for the fall.) Alec Saunders is a Waterloo-cum-Microsoft grad who has been Ottawa-bled in a decade-long struggle to get voice tech startup Calliflower off the ground. Now vice-president of developer relations at QNX/RIM, his goal is to enlist 50,000 app developers this year to ... develop apps for RIM.

And how about Prem Watsa, 61, CEO of Fairfax Financial. Reserved but revered for his canny and fantastically successful investment record, he's walking the talk, for sure, becoming a RIM director, laying his money down.

That's good for RIM and, by extension, good for Canada's tech sector. Whatever is good for RIM is good for Canada's tech sector. The worst thing conceivable these days is that RIM should follow Nortel into the crater. God forbid. Mr. Watsa's doing his part: when Mr. Lazaridis flamboyantly announced he'll invest another $50 million in RIM, Mr. Watsa allowed as how he might follow suit. (If either actually did it that day, he'd have lost $8 million in the past month.)

Fairfax is already the fourth-largest investor in the company. And it's here that the Ottawa connection resides. No. 2 and "lead director" at Fairfax is Anthony F. Griffiths. Through the early 1990s, Tony Griffiths was chairman and CEO at Mitel and mentor of the tech firm's CEO-in-waiting, Kirk Mandy. Mr. Griffiths went home to help Mr. Watsa become Canada's Warren Buffett. (As a matter of interest and disclosure, Mr. Griffiths was a modest investor in the newspaper I founded, Silicon Valley North, in the mid-1990s.)

QNX is doing its part. Mr. Watsa is doing his. So is Alec Saunders, which brings me back to apps. Mr. Saunders might not put it this way but he could use some help. Not only is he playing catch-up with Apple and Android, he doesn't yet have in hand the product for which developers are supposed to develop apps. What he has is 95 per cent there and what he needs now is the trust of the community. Developers have to believe that BlackBerry is coming back and that it's worth diverting some effort from making iPhone apps, or Google apps or now Microsoft apps. BlackBerry created mobile and it's still early days for mobile. BlackBerry's still a good bet. BlackBerry's coming back big time.

RIM is important to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We let Nortel slide with scarcely a sigh. It should never happen again and if we have anything to do about it, it never will. In this case there is something we can do. We can contribute enthusiastically to RIM's app store. We can build the apps. RIM is us. Let's get to it.

And here's something to do right now. On May 1, RIM's BlackBerry Jam 10 conference for app developers gets underway in Orlando, Fla. If you're not going yourself, take a minute to let Mr. Saunders know that we're here for him and RIM. It'll be good to share news down south that the home team is putting in extra effort. His e-mail address is alec.saunders@rim.com.

Tony Patterson is editor of SCAN and co-editor of Muck Rack Daily.

Organizations: Microsoft, Nortel, Fairfax Financial Mitel Apple Google

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Waterloo Silicon Valley North Ontario Orlando, Fla.

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Recent comments

  • M. Mirza
    May 11, 2012 - 20:27

    Couple of innovative platforms/OSs and a tsunami of interesting apps is overwhelming RIM; the idea is to ride the wave, innovate and market effectively. Jobs (the super marketer/innovator) straightened out Apple's long term strategy and Google being at the right place at the right time, with a talented pool/team, seized the opportunity as well. RIM may not need to re-invent itself (like Apple!) but refine/rethink steps and instill innovative thinking in the organization.

  • F. Dorner
    May 01, 2012 - 15:39

    While it is commendable to support a truly Canadian company such as RIM, it can’t be overlooked that the huge market share taken by Apple and Android will be impossible to overcome. I didn’t say nearly impossible, I said impossible. As in don’t bother. And that’s the point. Unless there is a compelling reason to buy a Blackberry phone or tablet, and there is no reason now, all of this effort is futile. RIM cannot compete anymore. Producing an easy app development environment such as the one from Maplin only encourages junk apps. And that’s all there is in AppWorld. I have a Playbook, which is a solid piece of hardware. QNX is a powerful OS platform. My wife likes her traditional BB phone since she is familiar with it and likes the physical keyboard. But we’re in the minority. One that is too small to propel RIM to competitive status against Apple, Android or even Windows Phone. Now all that negativity said, there is a sliver of hope. And that is if RIM is willing to slim down to a organization that makes only a few, well hardened, security tough business tools that Governments and corporations are willing to insist on in the face of the security-risky products from their competitors. But even then, with the desire to have one product to service both personal and business lives, it’s a big challenge. RIM isn’t dead yet, but their latest OS and app creator won’t be enough to come from behind. Good luck.

    • ron c
      May 03, 2012 - 12:03

      I'm very pleased with my playbook, but I agree, the apps are for the most part useless. Buy an app with good reviews only to find that the developer can delete any honest review that is less that supportive. Maybe a good way to attract developers; not the best for keeping customers.