Research In Motion co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis got some questions on the BBC television’s “Click” about the security of BlackBerry phones in India and the Middle East that he thought were unfair. So he ended the interview, with the cameras rolling.
“It’s over. Interview’s over,” he declared, saying that BlackBerry encryption is “a national security issue” and demanding that the BBC crew “turn that off.”
That was a very human reaction, but also profoundly foolish from any sane marketing perspective.
It’s understandable for people to worry about the security of their BlackBerry e-mail when governments in some other countries have been demanding a key to unlock RIM’s encryption.
But Lazaridis’s meltdown follows a series of earlier failures to communicate. This company seems to be having major problems articulating its plans and why customers would want to buy into them.
Consider Lazaridis’s Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview last fall that featured the incomprehensible praise of RIM’s $499-and-up PlayBook tablet, due April 19: “It’s not just a causal direction that I’m going to really articulate here—and feel free to go as deep as you want—it’s really as fundamental as causalness.”
In December, Lazaridis’s rambling answers at a Q&A session led by AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher led then-Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky to declare: “He isn’t making any sense at all. Quite literally, we don’t know what Mike is talking about right now.”
(Lazaridis has been more than articulate in other interviews.)
There’s also the disturbing way in which RIM has trickled out information about the PlayBook. It introduced the thing in September but provided few details and didn’t even mention the tablet’s battery life. It demoed the PlayBook at CES and announced 4G versions for wireless carriers but still wouldn’t talk ship dates or prices. After months of talking up how well the PlayBook would run programs written for it, the company acknowledge that it wouldn’t have a programming tool kit for developers until this summer and instead touted its ability to run Android apps. RIM also took its time to reveal that the PlayBook won’t ship with built-in mail, calendar or contacts apps.
Seriously, does RIM not realize whom it’s competing with? The company is all but begging to get crushed by Apple.
Serving up word-salad answers or bailing out of TV interviews won’t stave off that fate. Nor will playing the pity card, something RIM’s executives have been quick to do lately. (Earlier in the BBC clip, Lazaridis mopes that “we’ve just been singled out because we’re so successful around the world.”)
But making a great product could help. Do you think the PlayBook could count as such? Are you pinning your hopes to a future BlackBerry phone instead, or are you done waiting?