Balsillie The Radical? New Report Shines Light On The RIM That Could Have Been

Once perched atop the highest peaks of the smartphone market, Waterloo-based RIM recently found themselves at a crossroads: should they push ahead on the hardware front, or give it up in favor of their more lucrative network service business?

With the more “dictatorial” Heins at the helm, RIM has pointedly chosen the latter path, but a recent report from Reuters paints a picture of what could have been.

According to the usual unnamed sources close to the situation, former RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie spent his last months at the company championing a dramatic change in strategy. Rather than keep RIM’s proprietary network a closed garden, Balsillie wanted to break from tradition and open it up to non-BlackBerry devices.

Apparently, Balsillie had brought up the notion with several domestic and international wireless carriers, each of them displaying different degrees of receptiveness. With that sort of access in place, those carriers could offer a lower tier of data plans that Reuters’s Alastair Sharp says would be “limited to social media and instant messaging” in a bid to wean customers off of their frill-free feature phones.

Frankly, it would’ve been a pretty tough sell. As beneficial as the move could have been to carriers, let’s not forget that RIM’s global network experienced a major multi-day outage late last year.

Balsillie was also said to be pushing the expansion of RIM’s popular BlackBerry Messenger devices onto other platforms as part of those carrier deals, which may not come as much of a surprise to long-time readers. We’ve seen our share of leaked images depicting BBM running on Android (which just won’t stop coming), though it’s still unknown whether or not the apps in question will ever officially see the light of day.

The company’s focus on supporting other mobile platforms has been officially on the books since last year, when they announced their Mobile Fusion device management platform. Released just a few weeks ago, Mobile Fusion allows for companies and IT departments to setup and manage Android devices and iPhones as well as the usual BlackBerrys. The “if you can’t beat them, make money off them” mentality lives on, though maybe not on the scale that Balsillie had hoped for.

Alas, Balsillie is officially gone, and so are his seemingly wild-eyed plans. Thankfully for RIM, recently-installed CEO Heins seems to have a bit of that “anything goes” spirit — he noted during RIM’s most recent earnings call that as part of his strategic review process, he would consider any viable option to save the company. That includes, among other things, the dramatic possibilities of licensing their mobile OS and selling the company. It’s not exactly Plan A, but he’s open to all options and that’s probably the best mindset to have at this point.

That said, RIM’s plan going forward is to go full-bore with a BlackBerry 10 launch later this year. Developers will get their first peek at the OS at the BlackBerry Jam conference in May, but so far RIM has managed to keep all of us in the dark about their big new gamble. I’ve said time and again that RIM’s competition will only get worse the longer it takes them to push BB10 and its corresponding hardware out the door, but they can’t afford to deliver another incomplete product again.