Managing perceptions and product at RIM like Apple did

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By Jesse Rodgers

A tweet by Peter Mansbridge brought a lot of people’s attention to an article entitled Steve Jobs’ Lesson for RIM: Power of Perceptions, Turnaround 101, which focuses on how Steve Jobs changed the perception of Apple. That perception shift was driven a lot by product, and it wasn’t the iPod that did it. It was the other product — the Mac computer — and Apple’s ability to extend the life of a dead OS. Apple focused on revenue building and its “cult of mac” first.

The problem Steve Jobs faced with Apple’s OS going from the OS 8/9 to X and where RIM is now feels very similar. Apple extended the life of a dead OS while it built the OS for its future (OS X), the one that gave it the flexibility to build the iPod, the iPhone, and beyond. Did Jobs manage perceptions through how he spoke about Apple? Sure, but he also needed his product to deliver on the promise that Apple is innovative and cool.

Managing the OS shift over the years: Think different

It is worth looking at Apple OS 8/9 as this is where the perception change began. Compared to Windows 98, Apple OS seemed limited. There were few games, limited software available (mainly multimedia-focused software), and these ugly beige boxes. Building a new OS is hard, though, and Apple was out of money. The company needed to sell product in the interim. Since it couldn’t yet bring a new OS to market, it changed the easier part and went rather experimental on the hardware. Bondi Blue iMacs, Power Mac (blue G3graphite G4), Cubes (at the end of OS days), Clam Shell ibooks and Titanium bodied laptops. These experimental designs appealed to the multimedia creative crowd that used Apple for work. At first I think the designs were largely cosmetic but it didn’t matter. It was different.

This perception shift was product driven and brilliant. The faithful kept faith because there were constant updates and new ideas being offered to them. It was different, it was cool, it was worth that Apple premium on “top end” hardware. I remember when I first opened the side of a Graphite G4 in 1998 when my uni room mate got one. It was way cooler than anything I had seen before.

Then enter OS X.

The 1998-2001 section in this Wikipedia article goes through the period before OS X, which was basically the perception shift “heavy lifting” period.

Lesson for RIM is 1998-2001 Apple

RIM is a mobile computing company with a BB OS 7 reaching the end of its life. It has devices that don’t capture the imagination (but who does at the moment?), and a hardcore group of users similar to the Apple fans of that transition period at Apple. In order to “pull an Apple,” RIM needs to capture people’s imagination with BB OS 7 now and slow down the talk on OS 10 outside of the dev community. Outside of devs I don’t think people care what OS it is anyway, they just want email and messaging.

With BB OS 10 coming soon, the company could do some things to win over fans:

  • The latest Bold is a nice device, and the Porche designed one is kinda cool. RIM should do more of this but make its products inexpensive.
  • Offer those who get the latest Bold now the new BB OS 10 device in exchange for $100 and offer app store credit of $100.
  • Do something awesome with the NFC tech — help a loyalty program deploy it and offer some crazy promotion on Bolds, give a Bold to every person at the NFL season opener and have their tickets managed via NFC on the device, etc.

I am certain that if you get the right people in a room with a whiteboard for a week (they should be at the FELT lab every day!) they would come out with a few things that are possible to do relatively quickly to excite the loyal fan base. It seems like Alec Saunders is building his team still so maybe that is where the magic is going to happen. I hope so.

This post was originally published on Jesse’s blog, Who you calling a Jesse?


  • Brad

    July 13, 2012 1:02 am

    Great post, Jesse. I feel that BB has to get back to its roots of utilitarian work-driven devices. This means something sooo painfully simple. DO DESIGN: a jeep, hummer, landrover, go-anywhere, safari-vehicle, waterproof, shatterproof device, with an appropriate brand nickname. DON’T DESIGN: a device that shuts down with “water damage” from a few sprinkles. Their later models were made of sugar. The early models were indestructible. My iPhone is the second most durable device I’ve ever owned, with my first BB being the winner, by a long shot. Sad that something so obvious has been overlooked by RIM.

  • Jesse Rodgers (@jrodgers)

    July 13, 2012 11:00 am

    @Brad I long had Nokia’s that were like that. Even had my last Nokia go for a swim (just as the iPhone 3G came out funny enough) and it dried out and worked again! You are right, RIM needs to focus on that toughness. Build a great tool that is innovative in some way and can put up with the abuse of work life. I would like to think the smartphone early adopters are figuring out that they don’t need heavy bandwidth or tonnes of apps but they do want a great experience coming from a device that is easy to use and can survive a fall from your pocket.

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