Geekback - Breaking Blackberry News II

Speculation, as they say, is rampant.

People are now firmly divided into two camps on the RIM/NTP patent thing: Those with strong and often wildly-divergent opinions as to what it all means, and those who are completely confused. It should be pointed out, of course, that these two groups have pretty much the exact same amount of concrete information - it's only how they choose to deal with it that is different.

And - speaking of choosing and dealing ... the way that RIM chose to deal with this is the root cause of a huge chunk of their current problems. For reasons that probably make sense to them - and only them - they have elected to lower the Cone Of Silence in an attempt to turn Waterloo into some sort of latter-day Fortress Of Solitude. Instead of being forthright and open about all of this from the word go, they have positioned themselves as a wanna-be Microsoft with Jim Balsillie playing the role of a ghetto Bill Gates. The upshot? As you pick through the flood of speculation-charged "news" today, you can't help but notice that RIM comes off as the bad guys, a shadowy-yet-evil empire trying to crush the plucky little inventor who is gallantly defending his patents ... not particularly the image you want to project in a war that will be fought on the treacherous battleground of public opinion.

Is that really the case? No, of course not - both sides have some valid points, both sides have some dodgy stances. RIM, however, needed to take the high road early. Any sort of cursory examination of the patents in question or the history of NTP leads to the fairly obvious realization that Thomas Campana's patents are valid, they were filed long before RIM came onto the scene, and that NTP has every right to them - this is not a case of patenting a widespread technology after the fact. RIM's position was tenuous from the word go, and they needed to be the white knights in this endeavour, transparent to the media and making a big fucking noise about gallantly fighting for their beloved user base. Sadly, this is not the course that RIM has elected to follow, and the public and media perception that they have created by this tactic is definitely not working in their favour.

Now - nobody wants the Blackberry service gone or halted. The potential injunction that NTP keeps waving around is their "nuclear bomb" ... a threat, but one that they hope they never have to use. NTP wants to get their share of the sweet Blackberry pie, not to toss the whole damn thing out the window. The latest development here is the offer of a 30-day "grace period" ... something that makes NTP seem (once again) like the good guys, with user needs in mind, but is really an extra-heavy tactic ... it lets them pull the trigger and prove that they are not bluffing, but puts the onus back on RIM to find a way to dodge the bullet. Very clever, and very manipulative.

RIM, of course, is still championing the "software workaround" that they claim will save the day. However, their above-discussed refusal to actually talk about any of this - including the details of the workaround - gives everyone the idea that whatever it is, it will suck large. Rumours are rampant (mostly due to people who participated in focus groups stateside) that it will involve manually having to "check" your mail the way you do on any other handheld or desktop device. Is this true? Maybe, maybe not, but who the hell knows? If it is true, though, it is a nine-inch nail in the RIM coffin, since the only reason to carry a Blackberry is the instant mail synchronization. As a PIM, the Blackberry sucks ninety-seven kinds of wang (and still has wang lined up around the corner waiting for a turn) and for those functions you would be further ahead to carry a Treo or PocketPC or (when you get right down to it) a pad of fucking paper. Not coincidentally, some of the news feeds today are starting to mention the alternatives - something that they did not do in the early going here - and supposedly factual reporting of the goings-on is starting to be tainted by outright recommendations to get a Treo.

Is this the start of the avalanche? Maybe. Is it too late? No, of course not - RIM could stem the sudden surge of user and public resentment simply but opening up and honestly talking about what is going on. Will they? Don't hold your breath ... there seem to be some delusions of tech royalty up Waterloo way, and lowering themselves to chat with the peasants doesn't appear to be anywhere on the agenda.

Posted: Wed - January 25, 2006 at 09:31 AM