Monday, August 15, 2011

RIM's last chance

Well, in case you didn't hear, Google bought Motorola Mobility (a split off company from Motorola that built their phones).  This is Google's second attempt at manufacturing hardware for mobile phones (the first being the very underwhelming Nexus).  This will make Google much more like Apple and RIM when it comes to mobile phones: they will now make the hardware as well as the software for their mobile phones.  While Google claims the acquisition is in response to the MSFT/APPL led coalition which won the battle over the defunct Nortel's immensely valuable set of patents, it coincidentally lines up Google to directly compete with Apple in the mobile world.

Now that Apple has proven that, given the right spark of ingenuity, it's best to produce the phone and the operating system together, it only makes sense that the largest smart phone operating system builder would follow suit.  They'd be dooming themselves to failure if they didn't.  Microsoft made a similar gamble making a huge deal with Nokia (not an acquisition but more of an agreement) to have them produce the hardware that Microsoft hopes will rocket their mobile operating system (or their unified operating system, does anyone think that will really happen?) into a level of decent competition with their old rival Apple.

All of this begs the question: what about everybody else?  What other players are out there, and will the addition of another 800 lb. gorilla into the market allow anyone else to survive without putting on the gorilla suit?  What will happen to Microsoft (who is pretty much the only other smart phone operating system maker)?  What will happen to RIM (who has had the most dismal of quarters followed by "streamlining" [read layoffs])?

Here's what i see: RIM is betting everything on their QNX operating system.  With good reason, it's supposedly revolutionary (I am not an operating system developer so i couldn't tell you whether it is or not, but the experts have said that it is).  However, RIM is dead set on releasing the next version of their BlackBerry OS for their entire line of phones before dumping that as soon as possible for QNX.

If RIM survives that self induced roller coaster, it could emerge as the next gorilla to enter the playing field.  If not, RIM will not have much choice but to show up in Redmond wearing a short skirt and high heals promising incredible experiences for not much money.  At that point Microsoft (who has never really had any success building hardware for their own operating systems, at least not compared to the success that Apple has had) will have the opportunity to gobble up a hardware maker that is already established in the enterprise market. If Microsoft doesn't screw it up (like Cisco did with the Flip), they may emerge as the next suited gorilla in the market, finally able to compete with Apple and Google.

The other players in the smart phone market don't stand much of a chance at this point.  Who in their right mind would try to build a phone and put Google's operating system on it?  Who could really compete with a Google OS/Google hardware phone using a Google OS/[Any] hardware phone?  Is Samsung up to the challenge?  Who knows.