RIM takes a bold step forward

Amid a slip in investor confidence and stock value Research In Motion – the maker of the BlackBerry – is launching its most ambitious global product launch in history.
A Lebanese man looks at BlackBerry phones at a BB shop in downtown Beirut on Augut 6, 2010. Lebanon will assess security concerns relating to the use of BlackBerry in the country following the arrest of several telecom employees suspected of spying for Israel, the chairman of the Telecoms Regulatory Authority said. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID *** Local Caption *** 144754-01-08.jpg
A Lebanese man looks at BlackBerry phones at a BB shop in downtown Beirut on Augut 6, 2010. Lebanon will assess security concerns relating to the use of BlackBerry in the country following the arrest of several telecom employees suspected of spying for Israel, the chairman of the Telecoms Regulatory Authority said. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID *** Local Caption *** 144754-01-08.jpg

Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, plans to roll out the biggest product launch in the company's history.

In what analysts call a risky move, the smartphone manufacturer, based in Canada, is simultaneously releasing three new models of the BlackBerry this month in all its markets, including the UAE.

More than 225 carriers in total will be part of the ambitious launch.

RIM also plans to unveil two additional models in select markets, plus an updated operating system for all of its new phones designed to make browsing the web 40 per cent faster on its devices.

"This is the biggest thing RIM has been involved in - to introduce such a massive number of products and innovation," said Mike Al Mefleh, the director of product management in the Middle East for RIM. "This is very critical in terms of making sure we continue to lead the industry.

"We have been very busy in the background with the research and development to make sure we develop the right products."

The announcement comes as competitors such as Apple continue to bite into RIM's market share, and just weeks after RIM shuffled its top management.

RIM has also released details of a new "cost optimisation" programme - commonly referred to as "redundancies".

After a period of rapid growth over the past five years, during which RIM's workforce almost quadrupled, the company is now in the process of laying off about 2,000 employees "to focus on areas that offer the highest growth opportunities", RIM said.

The company's global workforce will shrink to about 17,000 people.

RIM has also warned investors overall sales of its electronic devices may drop this quarter, which would mark the first decline in nine years.

Even as the company's share price continues to slide, along with investor confidence, company executives remain upbeat about its latest strategy. "You can never tell, with the stock market, which direction it will go," says Mr Al Mefleh. "We are making a statement out there, and this is a very strong statement in continuing our rich heritage and BlackBerry experience."

But not everyone in the industry is convinced the plan will work.

One issue is more workplaces are considering employing competing smartphones for business purposes, including Apple's iPhone. Some also think new Windows-based phones on handsets from Nokia and other manufacturers might take a bigger share of the smartphone space RIM has largely dominated in the business world.

"[RIM] have decided to take a risk," said Thomas Kuruvilla, the managing director of the Dubai office at Arthur D Little Middle East, a consultancy specialising in the telecommunications sector. "I don't think launching multiple [BlackBerrys] in multiple geographies is a sure-shot success story - but I don't think they have an option."

While RIM has struggled as of late, particularly in North America, its operations in Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) have been a relative bright spot.

Last month, RIM said it added more than 1 million new subscribers in Emea in under three weeks. The region now accounts for more than 30 per cent, and rising, of RIM's total annual revenue, said Mr Al Mefleh.

"Definitely it's been growing in a deep way," he says. "The footprint in the Middle East market is growing."

Sales in the UAE have also been robust, because following the iPhone, the "BlackBerry has the best status image", said Mr Kuruvilla. Shipments of the company's mobile devices increased 62 per cent between May last year and the same month this year.

nparmar@thenational.ae

Published: August 7, 2011 04:00 AM

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