First, a puzzlingly disappointing "new feature." Then, a massive network outage. Can RIM do anything right?
FORTUNE — It’s hard to come up with a good metaphor for Research in Motion. The Keystone Kops is an easy one, but not all of RIM’s troubles are of its own making. The Old Testament character Job? Also not quite right, because most of RIM’s troubles are of its own making. How about Job in a Keystone Kops uniform? Or even better, Arrested Development‘s Gob in a Keystone Kops uniform.
This week co-CEO Jim Balsillie, during a speech in Dubai, introduced a new innovation for the company’s BlackBerry RIMM phone that has been widely ridiculed as not new and not innovative. And soon after his presentation, Dubai and a rather wide area surrounding it — the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa — was hit with a BlackBerry network outage. Now in its third day, the outage is spreading to North and South America. Early reports on Wednesday said parts of the United States are affected.
At first, the company blamed equipment failure in its facility in Slough, England. That city, of course is home to a branch of the Wernham Hogg paper company from the original British version of The Office, and to its office manager, David Brent. (But enough with the metaphors.)
Before the outage, Balsillie introduced the world to Tag, a feature that allows the sharing of contact info between two phones by tapping them together. Sound familiar? Sure it does. A similar app, though based on a different technology, has been available for both the iPhone and Android phones for years now. Even worse, the feature on those phones was never particularly popular.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg News is reporting that the outage problem must be solved quickly because of a mounting data backup. If it isn’t resolved soon, RIM might have to sacrifice some customer data – that is, emails and whatnot — to fix the problem. Just the thing investors want to hear.
Still, the stock is trading about even as of midday Wednesday. Investors might see all this trouble as a sign that something big will happen sooner rather than later — new leadership, or maybe a takeover. In any case, it’s clear that something needs to happen.