Reuters has confirmed that RIM co-founders Jim Basillie and Mike Lazaridis have confirmed in a hastily conducted series of phone interviews held on Saturday that they have stepped down from their shared CEO and Chairmanship roles from the company they founded with immediate effect.
Their immediate replacements are former Siemens executive Thorsten Heins and former TSX head Barbara Stymiest, who previously held a position on the Board of Directors for the embattled company before moving to the chairmanship position yesterday.
The company has seen its once dominant position in the wireless industry nearly fade in the face of its competition, with the iPhone and Android proving to be increasingly popular for both consumers and business users. While RIM has attempted multiple times to reinvent its BlackBerry line to attract consumers with the latest attempt in devices based on BlackBerry 7, the company has met little more than disinterest in the general market while Android and iOS continue to erode its competitive advantage with business customers.
RIM has also attempted to enter the equally competitive tablet market with its BlackBerry PlayBook, but not without making major mistakes along the way, such as requiring the use of a BlackBerry device for full functionality and not having a native email client available for standalone use, while developers have cited a completely developer hostile environment to develop applications for the tablet, notably the lack of native development tools and the reliance on third-party frameworks for development that lack the power necessary to develop complete applications.
For its part, RIM has continually promised that the above issues would be addressed next month with the long-awaited release of the PlayBook 2.0 update, but the company is currently selling the tablets at firesale prices and even took a $485 million loss on unsold inventory last year, adding to the problems that the company is currently dealing with.
With the stepping down of Lazaridis and Basillie, this also represents the end of an era at RIM as both men oversaw the growth of the company from a small company developing paging systems for commercial and freight customers, into an enterprise darling and pop culture icon once consumers adopted the BlackBerry en masse in the mid-2000s, before the launch of the iPhone.
Currently, the company is said to be working on its latest update to the BlackBerry operating system in BlackBerry 10, which is said to be based on QNX like the currently available PlayBook, but has suffered a major setback in terms of availability due to the lack of the necessary chipsets needed to produce commercial designs that won’t be available until mid-year for sampling, delaying the retail launch until the end of the year. As RIM is relying on BlackBerry 10 to save its current business model and compete against the iPhone and the whole of Android, having the co-CEOs step down in the middle of the transition marks a response to mounting internal and external pressure, rather than any long-planned transition.