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Dusting off my 2008 cover letter to RIM on BlackBerry’s future, rejected job application

Posted by bryan on October 27, 2015 in E-Business, E-Commerce, Mobile with No Comments

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The Research in Motion headquarters, based in ...

The Research in Motion headquarters, based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While backing up some files to an external hard drive from my older one, I recently came across an old Cover Letter which had accompanied my resume in a job application I sent to Research In Motion (RIM) back in Summer of 2008.

It’s interesting to look back at, because I recall back then being very frustrated with the state of the Mobile industry in North America (particularly in Canada). These feelings were only magnified by my time spent in Japan 2006-2008, a country which at that time was a clear leader in Mobile technologies and in the global consumer electronics in general. Since then, Korea and China (two other countries I was fortunate enough to have spent some time in during my Graduate school vacations in between terms) have now caught up in terms of innovation and even surpassed Japan’s leading Mobile technology companies in sales as well.

Back then companies (again particularly China & Korea but many European firms as well) were sending some of their top experts and technologists to Japan to do market research with and/or attempt to poach talented Japanese engineers from, the likes of world leading Japanese tech companies: Sony-Ericsson, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Fuji-Xerox, Konica-Minolta, Nintendo, Softbank, NTT, KDDI, etc. The goal was of course to glean as much information and consumer insights as possible from the country which boasted the fastest home fiber internet speeds, mobile internet speeds, mobile data usage, and mobile revenue per unit (ARPU) in not just gaming which usually comes to mind when thinking of Japan, but all application sectors.

My experience in Japan indeed taught me a thing or two about “sticky” services, particularly the infamous “iMode business model” by Takeshi Natsuno of  NTT DoCoMo which succeeded by providing a cohesive ecosystem of applications and a flat-rate (about $40 USD/month) unlimited data service, which drove subscriptions through the roof. On top of this, standards and specifications which were simple to follow for developers and which reduced page-size for web content with cHTML then later WAP/WML helped grow the service’s offerings in an organic way. Only now are we starting to see the same sorts of initiatives by Google [LINK] & Apple [LINK] in North America. Over here, very little regard has been made for how to optimize mobile services for users, which is why our Mobile industry is only now catching up to and finally surpassing where Japan was 9-10 years ago. Indeed, we constantly hear reports about the growth of Online/Mobile Video (i.e. streaming ad-supported content like YouTube, Vimeo, etc), On-Demand/IPTV (i.e. rentals or purchases on iTunes, GooglePlay, etc), and OTT (i.e. subscription services like Netflix, Hulu & Amazon Prime Instant Video). However, MobileTV via OneSeg had already reached millions of users whereas SMS texting was just starting to take off in North America (in any meaningful way that resembles its adoption level today).

What got us to this point was not the old guard, of Blackberry. It definitely wasn’t the even “innovate when its already too late” Canadian Telcos. What we needed was the introduction and many iterations of the iPhone and Android phone operating systems and ecosystems which have grown up around them, just to catch us up to Asia. Basically what that means is that we needed a powerful supercomputer (more powerful than the room-sized super-computers used to send men to the moon in the Apollo 11 landing, as I’m sure you’ve heard before) in our pockets, to do what the Japanese could do with just a fraction of the computing power and screen size. Another similar example is what Atari could accomplish while innovating an entire industry out of nothing, with only 4-bit video games and the magic Nintendo could pull off to revive said industry with just 8-bits (NES); compared to what it took for Microsoft engineers to feel they could play in this space (128-MB with the first generation X-Box) and join the Video Game console wars.

Where is Canada in all this though? Our top tech players have not had the best track record, think Nortel, ????, and now RIM/BlackBerry. They are really a victim of our legal restrictions and an anti-competitive Mobile market due to complacent Telcos more than anything. While NTT was procuring top tech innovators to produce mobile devices for them and licensing their iMode technology to Mobile Network Operators (telcos) in over 17 countries [LINK], RIM was struggling to establish itself as a leader in Email communications on the Mobile. Don’t get me wrong, they are. To this day, I still prefer the experience of my first BlackBerry unified message center for Email/SMS/IM messages to anything from iOS or Android. That said, hindsight proves to us that the company was a little myopic and risk-averse to the point of not pursuing innovation opportunities.

As soon as I returned from Japan, I remember having an extremely infuriating feeling of hopelessness and unfairness due to the monopolies and oligopolies driven by protectionist measures, cronyism and a resulting complete lack of competition or innovation. I had gone from a state-of-the-art 1Seg MobileTV handset Sharp-911SH (Sharp alone for example has reached 10 million in sales of 1seg devices) down to a basic Nokia “candy bar” phone that could only play a single grainy 3GP video format when pre-downloaded (or streamed via RTSP). Then something major (several things actually) happened towards the late summer and early fall of 2007. Apple officially unveiled the first version of the iPhone and its iOS Mobile platform, introducing apps for free or paid download which could ride the coat-tails of the business success that the iTunes ecosystem had already been generating with its Music sales for iPods. Meanwhile, Google went the other direction by announcing its acquisition of the Android Mobile OS project along with its parent company of the same name (acquisition happened in 2005 but it was first unveiled in Fall 2007). Shortly after this, Google would also acquire Motorola and finally open source their entire Mobile platform which included a number of Google APIs such as Advertising (powered by earlier AdMob/DoubleClick acquisitions) and Multimedia (powered by acquisitions of YouTube/Picasa/Orkut) adding capabilities into the Android project as SDKs.

I laid out some steps that I felt RIM could take to avoid competing with these two consumer-centrist Mobile device manufacturers, and how they could preserve their business brands and enterprise reputation by releasing a single upgradable mobile device under a different brand name than Blackberry. I had suggested the name “RIM Slim”, but then again I’m no marketer. I merely wanted to emphasize the importance of it being a totally separate product line, but by the same parent company as the beloved Blackberry enterprise-focused brand. Yet, I wanted it to be much more approachable, lightweight and user-friendly for consumer usage. Also, eliciting the concept that the “base” model was not only slimmer than the rounded corner design physically but also that it could fit the slimmest of budgets (very affordable). Lastly, that it started with a slimmed out base model that had modular replaceability of all its components was also important.

What would my ideal RIM Slim have looked like?
The window of opportunity to differentiate a consumer-focused product line is now gone for RIM (who’ve recently renamed the company to BlackBerry). Their only hope is to go all-in on the BlackBerry name which may be what they are doing with the legal shuffle to rename the company.

Research In Motion (RIM) “slim” proposed prototype

Ok admittedly my design was a little “boxy” compared to the rounded corners design that the iPhone (pictured on the left-most 1st column for size reference) and later Samsung’s particular flavour of Android devices made “the new hotness”. Ironically enough though, the “Passport” was a RIM/BlackBerry device that eventually ended up looking quite similar, and I actually liked that BlackBerry quite a bit, but anytime I used it, couldn’t help but feel a deep disappointment RIM would at that point, obviously never position themselves to build the first truly modular mobile device.

Seen above are swappable keyboards in the middle with varying specializations (texting/emails, web browsing with trackball, business usage with trackpad, gaming/accessibility with mini-joystick and larger/more buttons), additional screen (with the concept that you connect multiple screens together for a split-screen effect and for larger viewing), and lastly in the 3rd column you can see a modular high-powered speaker (didn’t think about it at the time but potentially Bluetooth/detachable as well), photography-grade attachable HD Camera with much higher megapixels than the base camera (or “base” model could even ship without a camera, imagine that, a phone that was just a phone first and foremost but had a great camera add-on for those who want it, base could be priced cheaper), and lastly a portable battery pack that could extend the usage life of the handset by 24hrs (able to be used to recharge the battery to 100% several times).

What should the BlackBerry line look like instead of what it’s become?

Lastly, I had some general feature suggestions:

  • Email should be a first-class citizen (i.e. based on the way I’ve observed BlackBerry devices being used, no “Home Screen” or unwieldy collection of background apps, just go straight to the Messsage Center)
  • Productivity should be the priority in all design considerations, not flashiness or stupid pointless mobile transitions/animations like Android brings into the Priv, or, in the vain of copying iPhone
  • Touch-screen Swiping/Gestures are ok in some cases where they help achieve a specific productivity goal, but Speech Recognition and a QWERTY keyboard attachment could go alot further… that should remain the primary business form factor
  • Playbook Tablet “remote control” from your phone was (and still is, if  you’re lucky enough to get it working) a seriously awesome feature that could be used really well for Presentations when hooked to a big screen or Projector… where is the killer Presentation app for BlackBerry OS though? Never happened, such a shame…
  • Microsoft Office type of suite would be nice
  • The “remote control” concept could be expanded to a remote control for “all the things” just like the IoT promises
  • Why not acquire or partner with RaspberryPI  team and start to make BlackBerry the “hacker’s dream phone” by open sourcing all the components
  • the biggest complaint I keep hearing about BlackBerry is “no apps” (or “the apps suck”), so why not open the BlackBerry platform up to ALL the apps…
  • give root access and a command-line to compile any desired code to the phone, opening up the platform like the OpenMoko first attempted
  • include a full Java OpenJVM not a neutered Dalvik engine like Android provides
  • Update “BlackBerry World” store to be more user-moderated and better powered by user reviews/ratings to avoid poor quality apps getting bubbled to the top (but ensure they are trusted/verified power users moderating, and strictly crack down on bots)
  • Possibly merge the store and its moderation with the “Crackberry” team at least they seem passionate about RIM products
  • Clearly there doesn’t seem to be much of a budget or large team at BlackBerry for updates to their version of the App store, it is seriously lacking after all these years, so an initiative to stimulate app development is required


Could I have saved RIM and the BlackBerry line from their current fate as mediocre Android devices? Probably not, but you never know if the “modular” design, what would have been a first of its kind,  could have given some new life to the company. At the time, it would have made alot of sense to compete against iPhone & Android phones more indirectly, without risking their BlackBerry brand. The company definitely should have more clearly stated that BlackBerry was business focused and not for watching cat videos or playing “Candy Crush”. Instead, thanks to failed attempts at “keeping up with the Jones’ (or should I say Googles/Apples)” they’ve now lost the innovation race for the consumer market and their business power users alike. I still think both the ideas I proposed in that job application and cover letter have some serious merit, although by this time its too late for a separate line, as the BlackBerry only has a shred of its former brand reputation left as is. Now, who’s in charge of HR, NPD and/or Marketing at the company?

The sad thing is that today, while I typically carry around my iPhone 6 everywhere I go to count steps and watch stupid videos, I still don’t have the powerful enterprise smartphone I described with strong encryption and consumer privacy built into every aspect, with seamless business applications. Nor do I have that dream “perpetually upgradable”, off-contract, entertainment-focused slimmer mobile device. Anyone want to create this dream device for me? If so just don’t forget where you got the idea, I might be looking for work again some day.