By Jack Hidary, contributor
FORTUNE — Many have given up on Research in Motion — with good reason. The company has ceded its leadership in a space it once dominated.
Last week RIM’s (RIMM) CEO Thorsten Heins depressed the stock further by announcing that the company will stick to its outdated operating system and come out with its next iteration in the first quarter of next year. This — without question — will doom the company to failure.
Instead I suggest a different approach: pull a reverse Apple (AAPL). In 2006, Steve Jobs swapped out the proprietary PowerPC (IBM) chips for Intel (INTC) semiconductors across its product line. Apple was then free to focus on what it does best — total user experience. Though a rumored possibility on and off for years, Jobs’ initial announcement shocked Mac fans. We can now see how prescient a move it really was. Refocusing on user experience was the beginning of the new Apple that has come to be the most valued company in the world.
RIM can easily jettison its software platform, which has failed to attract developers, and license Google’s (GOOG) Android while keeping its unique line of Blackberry hardware. RIM can add value on the Android platform by delivering a business version of the OS. This would include built-in hooks for Salesforce.com (CRM), Oracle (ORCL), SAP (SAP) and other enterprise platforms. The typical Android phone is geared more for consumer applications and multimedia rather than hard-core business apps out-of-the box.
If for some reason, Google will not play ball with RIM, the company can turn to Microsoft (MSFT) and license its mobile Windows OS. The challenge then will be the paucity of apps and developers on that platform as well. But RIM is better off cutting a deal with Google and creating a mobile business platform.
Blackberry users love the form factor and keyboard of their devices. Many find it hard to use a virtual keyboard and would rather stick with their “crack berries.” Mr. Heins can give them what they want with a modern OS and the biz apps that will make it easy to stay with Blackberry. RIM has built a fast global network whose security offers a lot of value to enterprise users. However, unless it rolls out a platform soon that has strong developer support this network will disappear.
Fortune 500 CTOs who adopted Blackberry with such gusto five years ago are now facing angry users who want cutting-edge business apps. If RIM jumps to Android they can keep their strong corporate user base. But these same CTOs will not wait until next year. I have spoken a number of CTO’s who are already implementing their Blackberry exit plans. RIM’s continued woes are only likely to make an anecdotal trend an actual one.
RIM has only a few months to change course. If they take a page from the book of Steve Jobs they can come out with an updated device this fall. Otherwise, RIM might as well fold into its Perimeter Institute because that is exactly where it will end up — on the outskirts of the very market the firm helped create.