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Five things we learned from The Verge’s exhaustive feature on RIM

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Given all the takeover rumours, bad behaviour and executive comings and goings, even the most dedicated Research in Motion watcher could use a refresher. Enter Jesse Hicks over at The Verge, who wrote a comprehensive (and lengthy) article that tells the whole sordid RIM tale, from Mike Lazaridis’s university days through to last week’s PlayBook upgrade. No time to read 9,500-plus words? We’ve collected the most interesting tidbits, including an early alternative to the “BlackBerry” brand name and why RIM is like the Soviet Union. All the dirt, after the jump.

1. Young Lazaridis was a typical nerdy boy (in the best way, of course)
Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Lazaridis made a model phonograph out of Lego when he was four and a pendulum clock that kept time by the time he was eight. Predictably, he also loved science fiction novels and Star Trek.

2. “Strawberry” just doesn’t have the same ring
In the mid-’90s, RIM developed a device with a thumb keyboard and email connectivity, and then brought in Lexicon Branding to help sell it (“RIM 950 Inter@ctive Pager” clearly wasn’t working). Someone suggested “Strawberry,” since the keyboard’s buttons looked like seeds, but Lexicon’s resident linguist said “straw”—a slow syllable—made the device seem sluggish. “Black” was considered much zippier…and a brand was born.

3. The iPhone’s entrance initially boosted RIM
After the release of the iPhone and iPhone 3G, BlackBerry sales actually increased. Apple’s hype lured new consumers to the smartphone market, and many of those newcomers opted for the cheaper BlackBerry over the iPhone. It was only later that RIM’s dominance began to falter.

4. As a university student, Lazaridis swore he would nurture engineers…
RIM’s marketing game is weak—even their CEO says so. To explain why, Hicks looks back to Lazaridis’s first university co-op, at supercomputing company Control Data Corporation. At CDC, engineers were told to simplify their products for the perceived needs of consumers, sending frustrated geniuses to more innovative companies in Silicon Valley. “It was a mistake Lazaridis told himself he’d never make,” writes Hicks. “His company would nurture engineers, giving them the time and space in which to build the future.”

5. …but, despite his intentions, employee morale at RIM is abysmal
The four-fold increase in RIM’s workforce means that bureaucratic annoyances, office politics and time wasting are rife. An attempt to break off the BB10 development group to recreate the feel of a hungry start-up has been disastrous, reports Hicks, creating rifts between the BB10 group and employees working on soon-to-be-obsolete legacy code. Hicks spoke to Alastair Sweeny, author of a book about the BlackBerry’s rise, who said, “It’s like the Soviet Union. Everyone’s pretending to work.”

• Research, no motion: How the BlackBerry CEOs lost an empire [The Verge]