RIM has promised big things from its debut BlackBerry 10 devices, saying the new platform will put the company back on the mobile map when it touches down in Q1 of next year.
If you're wondering how exactly that qualifies as news, that's the point: it doesn't. But it's pretty much all there is to say about RIM right now.
The once-mighty business phone brand has done a lot of talking over the past 12 months, but when it comes to the altogether more substantial business of releasing new products, RIM has been woefully quiet for a long time now.
Last year saw a clutch of semi-upgrades and product evolutions emerge in the summer along with BlackBerry OS 7, which is still the current version of the OS and will remain that way until BlackBerry 10 arrives next year. It means 2012 will probably come to an end without a single meaningful piece of RIM hardware having been launched during the year.
And while the company regularly quotes certain well-chosen figures and statistics to prove it's doing a good job of holding on to customers and businesses during the transition period ahead of BB10's release, Pacific Crest analyst James Faucette says that simply isn't the case.
In fact, he claims some of the US carriers he spoke to recently said they hadn't shifted one single BlackBerry handset in more than a month.
“Our sell-through checks in the United States indicate that BlackBerry sales were largely unchanged in August versus July; however, we detected meaningfully lower inventory levels versus a month ago,” Faucette says.
“In terms of sell-through, we believe that current run rates are roughly one-fifth of those we saw in the United States just eight months ago. Further, we found a meaningful number of carrier retail locations which had not sold a single BlackBerry in over a month.”
Now anecdotal evidence like this is no substitute for hard facts, but there's every reason to believe the hard facts are well on their way to telling the same story. Just because RIM has been managing a steady decline until now doesn't mean there isn't a cliff face the company can still drop off.
For the first time, subscribers and businesses are getting to the end of their contracts and seeing that RIM's lineup is almost completely unchanged from when they signed up. Small businesses looking to upgrade aren't any better off for choice than they were 18 months ago. And having made the switch to Android/iOS/Windows Phone, they probably won't be back in a hurry.
The fact that both RIM and Nokia have seen their fortunes slide dramatically over the past couple of years, and that both are vying for that coveted “third ecosytem” status, means comparisons between the two are inevitable.
Both have seen a once-dominant market position slide alarmingly, both have decided to turn their back on the past and start with a clean slate on a completely new OS, and both are taking an unavoidable hit while that new platform gets off the ground.
But Nokia has now been doing the Windows Phone thing for nearly a year now, has the weight of Microsoft helping to prop it up (or drag it down, depending on how you feel about these things), and spent its painful transition year completely emptying its Symbian bag of tricks just to keep some kind of momentum going. And it's struggling despite all that.
RIM has none of those elements counting in its favour, and we could still be months away from anything changing. As disappointing as it is seeing the same old BlackBerry faces sitting there on the shelves month after month, the picture Faucette paints raises an even more depressing prospect: that soon those phones might not be sitting there at all.