Research in Motion launched the Canadian version of its PlayBook video store app yesterday, which means the growing contingent of Canadians who own the tablet can, at long last, rent and buy movies and television shows. The app functions similarly to Apple’s iTunes store, allowing users to stream trailers for free and charging roughly $5 to rent a current release blockbuster (users don’t even have to wait for the download to finish before starting to watch). The video library comes a few months after RIM launched a long-awaited upgrade with email and calendar apps. We’d say the PlayBook is finally getting close to what techies had hoped for when it came out last year. [Globe and Mail]
Anyone who owns a BlackBerry (and, despite Research in Motion’s recent troubles, there are still many who do) can no longer use the official New York Times app to read news stories. The New York Times Company stopped supporting its apps for BlackBerry and Palm Pre earlier this week, telling users it’s “consolidating [its] efforts” on its mobile site, which already “offers a more complete New York Times experience than the NYTimes app native to your device.” (In other words, the company didn’t want to pour money and effort into an app that solely works on a device that’s losing popularity.) BlackBerry users will continue to have access to the newspaper’s mobile site, but the loss of a high-profile news app isn’t good for RIM, which built its name by helping business people stay connected and informed. [h/t Reuters]
Though many now doubt Research in Motion can survive, billionaire Prem Watsa’s Toronto-based insurance and investment firm continues to buy up stock. Fairfax Financial Holdings has bought 25 million shares in the last month, bringing its stake in RIM up to nearly 10 per cent and making it the tech giant’s single largest known shareholder. Sound familiar? Back in January, when Watsa first became a RIM board member, he doubled his and Fairfax’s shares to a 5.12 per cent stake. Watsa, whom the Globe and Mailcalls “a contrarian investor by nature,” said Fairfax isn’t buying up stock because they believe a takeover is imminent; rather, he has confidence in the firm’s management and the potential of the BlackBerry 10. The man is no dummy—he has beendubbed the “Warren Buffet of the North”—so this move may make some reconsider whether RIM really is dead.[Globe and Mail]
Research in Motion has a patent pending for a feature that would figure out how a user is feeling when they’re texting, and reflect it for recipients—a futuristic idea that (we hope) will stem criticism about RIM’s lack of innovation. The phone would guess at the texter’s mood using motion sensors, as well as galvanic skin-response sensors to determine blood pressure and heart rate, and (somewhat creepily) the front-facing camera to capture facial expression. The font, size and colour of the text would change depending on how the sender feels—for instance, red, bold and large could mean ”frustrated,” blue and small could mean “sad,” and green and wavy could mean “creeped out by the fact that their phone knows how they feel.” [Wired]
Research in Motion’s embarrassing flash mob outside a Sydney Apple store was a sign of worse things to come for its Australian operations. Last week, RIM’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand left the company after less than three months in the position. Then this week, Qantas Airwaysannounced it would start using iPhones instead of BlackBerrys for its 1,300 company-issued phones — in part because the company expects to save more than $1 million through simplified infrastructure and data agreements, but also because a survey suggested employees would rather have iPhones than BlackBerrys. So, basically, RIM is struggling to hold on to executives, corporate clients and consumers. Not good.
Research in Motion is throwing a two-week-long “BlackBerry PlayBook Experience” in New York City’s Chelsea Market to help hype its tablet, and it really wants people to come. Guests are welcomed to the extravaganza with a bevy of freebies: food, drinks, raffle tickets for RIM goods—they’ll even hand over a $10 bill to anyone willing to stay longer than 10 minutes and fill out a short survey. In addition to the barrage of giveaways, RIM has organized guest appearances from musicians, mixologists, authors and artists until the “experience” ends on July 23. We’re not denying that people like free stuff, but will that translate into a more hopeful future for the PlayBook? Seems like an awfully expensive gamble for a company that’s looking to cut costs and just found out it has a hefty legal settlement to pay. [Huffington Post]
Canadian Business seems pretty convinced that Research in Motion is in a dire state—and it’s certainly not the only publication to voice that opinion. Unlike other media outlets, however, the magazine’s latest cover (shared on Instagram by art director and former Toronto Life–er John Montgomery) actually gives the date of death. Sure, RIM is bleeding money, selling its private jet, facing lawsuits, delaying products, laying off employees and trying—and failing—to appease shareholders with its new touchy-feely PR strategy. But coming right out and saying that RIM is dead when there’s still a chance—a wafer-slim chance, but a chance—that it could rally seems a tad mean (even if the cover design is arresting). [Instagram]
After Research in Motion announced BlackBerry 10 would be delayed until 2013, some analysts cried death spiral, and CEO Thorsten Heins went into PR overdrive (in under five days, he talked up RIM’s robust future in a Metro Morninginterview,an op-ed in the Globe and Mail and a reader Q&A). But the delay could have one other serious consequence: it leaves RIM vulnerable to being sued for misleading shareholders. Heins all but promised a fall 2012 release of the gadget since he took over in January—and, depending when he knew that wouldn’t happen, the company may have broken a regulation requiring companies to promptly disclose developments that could significantly affect their financial state. Basically, saying your business is “laser-focused on coming in on time” will get you burned if you don’t deliver.
There’s nothing wrong with the company as it exists right now.
—Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins, on his company’s current predicament. Heins waved off all the talk of death spirals, suggesting RIM will make it through this “transition” and that the company is already a lot different from when he took the helm six months ago. Of course, Heins’s confidence, while heartening, would be more convincing had RIM not just announced 5,000 layoffs and a $500-million loss. [CBC News]
This animated slap in Research In Motion’s face comes courtesy of Next Media Animation, the Taiwanese studio also responsible for that legendary Elin Nordegren versus Tiger Woods cartoon. The minute-long animation gives a very loose interpretation of RIM’s rise and fall. For instance, Steve Jobs is cast as a crack dealer and gangland assassin. And he takes out an anthropomorphized BlackBerry in a drive-by shooting. Despite the jerky animation and kooky soundtrack, we found ourselves feeling sorry for Canada’s poor, fallen smart phone. [h/t Toronto Star]
Research In Motion has been hit with yet another round of rumours about a sale. The Sunday Times of Londonalleges—without citing any sources—that the BlackBerry maker is thinking of splitting itself into two, severing the stumbling handset-manufacturing division from the still pretty solid messaging-network division. The paper reports the handset division could become a separately listed company or be sold off to big-wigs like Amazon or Facebook, while the messaging services could either be opened up to other hardware manufacturers or also put up for sale. RIM denied the possible fire sale, calling it “a silly fantasy.” The idea may make some financial sense (RBC Dominion Securities analyst Mike Abramsky was the first to float it), but it would be sad to see Canada’s former tech darling admit that taking a two-pronged approach has failed. Er, again.[Globe and Mail]
They did lots of promotion with the guys from the Black Eyed Peas trying to be cool, and we told them that cool … was not an attribute that they were going to displace Apple from at all. I’m not sure they quite ever got that.
—Matthew Kelly, a brand strategy consultant who worked with Research in Motion from late 2009 to early 2011, on some early signs of an identity crisis at the now-struggling tech giant. Kelly says that when RIM should have been focusing on innovation and new products, it was instead straining to seem hip, rather than stodgy and out of touch. Apparently, copious shots of the Playbook in a Black Eyed Peasmusic video (they start around the 2:15 mark) didn’t quite do the trick. [Global News]