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Opinion: The challenges facing BlackBerry maker, RIM

By Stuart Miles, Special to CNN
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Fri March 30, 2012
BlackBerry maker RIM described the rumors that is pulling out of the consumer market as wholly inaccurate.
BlackBerry maker RIM described the rumors that is pulling out of the consumer market as wholly inaccurate.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The BlackBerry maker fights speculation that is pulling out of the consumer market
  • Research In Motion has been hit by low earnings and sales amid intense competition
  • Today, virtually every phone not only has email, but also apps and internet connectivity
  • RIM's challenge is to show that it is still relevant and can still fight its rivals

Editor's note: Technology journalist Stuart Miles is CEO and founder of gadget review website Pocket-lint. He can be found tweeting at @stuartmiles.

(CNN) -- Research In Motion has a battle on its hands if it is to win back the hearts and minds of the smartphone-buying public. Earnings are down, sales are down, and now the company is battling rumors that it is pulling out of the consumer market altogether.

The company's biggest challenge in the coming months is to prove to business and consumers alike, that they have the ability to match the Android, Apple, and even the Microsoft juggernauts that are heading off into the distance with their customers.

Thirteen years ago, when I spotted my first BlackBerry in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, the American businessman holding the device drew a crowd. At the time we were all amazed and impressed by his ability to check and send emails on the go from a device that fitted in his pocket.

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But RIM's biggest problem is that its key selling point -- email -- is no longer a key differentiator in the battle for the best handset.

Email is a given, and while secure email appeals to some, it is not a requirement of the majority. That has left RIM with a problem that is forcing them to refocus and button down what they offer.

Read more: BlackBerry set to offer free apps for outage

The company cannot forget its business roots and high-flying business travelers in airports around the world, and for many businesses RIM is still the best choice.

The CTO that chooses your company phone doesn't care whether you'll want to play Angry Birds on it -- he cares that the emails you send are secure and the phone lasts long enough so your team members can reach you if you've left the office.

At the other end of RIM's marketplace is the consumer youth market. Parents are happy to go BlackBerry because they are cheap to run, offer BBM to their kids for talking to their other friends, and don't cost a fortune to buy.

And therein lies the problem. The latest earnings seem to demonstrate that people no longer tend to buy BlackBerries, they have them bought for them by work and by their parents.

The challenge is for RIM to show that it is still relevant, that it hasn't given up the fight, and that it does still have the ammunition to fight back.

Patrick Spence, the company's managing director of global sales and marketing, has said that the rumors of RIM pulling out of the consumer market are wholly inaccurate and that the company is merely refocusing efforts on its core strengths. For RIM that means its enterprise customer base is now once again a key focus. It's got to make sure the bits of the company that work, work smoothly, and bring in the supplies to support the rest of the business for the fight ahead.

If RIM loses that core business to Apple, or Microsoft, or Google -- who are all nipping at RIM's heals for the business sector -- then there will only be one fruit-named company left to talk about, and that would be a terrible shame.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stuart Miles.

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