Early reviews are favourable, if you look past the obligatory “it would have been nice if it had this at launch” comments. One Toronto-based market analysis firm releases an encouraging report saying the PlayBook now accounts for 15% of the Canadian tablet market. Pay no mind that PlayBooks make up an infinitesimal portion of both global tablet sales and the total hardware RIM sells, or that the discounting led RIM to take a huge writedown of nearly half-a-billion dollars on revalued inventory in December—this type of incremental progress qualifies as full-blown momentum, and provides proof that people are still interested in the very latest BlackBerry experience. It’s also a sign of hope for RIM’s next-generation operating system, BlackBerry 10, which is a direct descendant of the PlayBook’s sleek multi-tasking software.
DAY SIXTY-SEVEN: March 29
Few can honestly say they didn’t see the cliff coming. Throughout March, bearish industry analysts lobbed increasingly gloomy predictions for RIM. Jefferies & Co.’s Peter Misek said the chance of a negative pre-announcement was greater than 50%. A Barclays analyst titled his RIM note, “Grim and Getting Grimmer.” On the morning of March 29, the day the company will report its fourth-quarter earnings, it’s hard to see any silver lining in the carnage. The depth of how bad things have gotten is still startling. The first real inkling comes about an hour before the earnings call, when a source tells me that a bunch of senior managers are being let go in another “big shakeup.” On the call, the company reports its results, which miss earnings estimates for the fifth straight quarter, and announces the departure of at least two senior executives. A “strategic review” of the business is promised. We learn that Balsillie, too, is resigning from the board. All this, and still no chief marketing officer appointment. (RIM will fill the position on May 8.) I am told that this veritable torrent of bad news, particularly on the earnings call, is deliberate: Get it all out now, a former RIM executive tells me. Set a low water mark and create a positive halo around every single bit of progress from this point on, regardless of how incremental (say, a product being delivered on time, without glitches). The call is also meant to be a bit of a bridge to investors, some of whom have been clamouring for RIM to break itself apart and sell. Heins outlines on the call that his review will consider licensing RIM’s software to third parties, and when asked about selling the company, he doesn’t rule it out. “There’s no guarantee of success,” Heins says. One analyst, who doesn’t want to be identified, calls me to say with a hint of sadness in his voice: “This is the beginning of the end.”
DAY NINETY-FOUR: April 25
Shortly after noon on April 25, Thorsten Heins waits at RIM 10, in the Quasar boardroom, which sounds like it might have been named by Lazaridis. The room is identical to, but exactly one floor above, the boardroom in which we all met in late January. This time it’s just Heins, myself and Tenille Kennedy. The vista looking out over Waterloo’s quiet streets is much the same, though the snow has melted. Without prompting, Heins launches into a highly compressed summation of his priorities. He chops the table with his hand when he’s accentuating a negative point (denying reports that RIM might abandon the consumer market) and jabs the table with bunched digits, like a pickaxe, when he’s elucidating a priority (like the importance of the release of BlackBerry 10). Over the past few months, he says, he has been busy “providing focus to the company, making clear what counts, what everybody needs to work on.” Of his company, Heins asks rhetorically, “What’s our purpose? Why are we here?”