There's no such thing as a good time for RIM to leave half its customers without messaging or internet. But the problem's been getting worse, not better—on the day that Apple makes its strongest case for total dominance.
Plenty of shots have been taken at RIM lately, here and elsewhere. But I'm not sure anyone counted this one among them: a famed proprietary system that, when compromised, puts 70 million people in the dark. Every last bit of data that flows to and from a BlackBerry does so through RIM's vast expanse of servers. When those servers go kaput? So do the phones.
RIM held a call this afternoon to address the damage, but didn't offer much by way of a solution. They still haven't determined the root cause of why its core switch failed, much less why backup systems didn't save the day. And all this time, emails and BBMs keep piling up, clogging the pipe even more. Oh, and when your service is restored? Expect your inbox to be jammed up as it processes hours (days?) of unreceived messages. You'll get them all eventually, RIM says. But it's going to be a gigantor-sized pain in the neck.
Add up every other thing we've ever written about why BlackBerry is dying. This is worse. It's worse because it's something that was previously thought to be irreproachable. RIM's handsets have fallen behind, okay, but there's BBM. The PlayBook hasn't lived up to its potential, but at least it's lock-solid reliable for enterprise. RIM's reliability was pretty much all it had left; its failure is like finding out that a million Volvos spontaneously combusted in a million driveways.
Those worried about security, for now you shouldn't: RIM says it doesn't think they got hacked. But for those worried about the company's future, the fact that this was a systemic failure and not third-party havoc should be positively chilling. They don't know what happened. They don't know how to fix it. They just know that it's their own fault.
Meanwhile: Apple. There's been plenty written here and elsewhere about iOS 5, which is clean and user-friendly and functional. The iPhone 4S will be here in two days. And when you're abandoned in a data-less desert, there's no more tempting oasis than Apple's. Your shit's broken, iTunes calls out. Ours is shiny and new. Yes, iCloud could well unravel into another MobileMe. But that doesn't mean the grass on its side is any less green today.
In the short-term, sure, iOS has probably gobbled up some of the headline space that would otherwise have been devoted to BlackBerry. But that doesn't matter to the IT manager who's had 10,000 workers with busted phones all day. It doesn't help the bond trader who can't raise the home office. All it does is remind the people who've spent the day with a useless lump of plastic in their pockets that it doesn't have to be like this.
In the meantime, BlackBerry users whose phones have gone flaccid, take heart that you can at least still text. And, fortunately for RIM, S.O.S. comes in way under 160 characters.
You can keep up with Brian Barrett, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.