The battle of Waterloo

March 15, 2011

RIM/By Alastair Sharp

University of Waterloo students looking for a bit of extra cash and some experience in the world of technology often end up spending a semester in the bowels of Research In Motion’s sprawling campus next door.

Waterloo, a university town an hour’s drive from Toronto where RIM built its empire at the entrance to its mine, is a technology hub and its main university is often referred to as either the MIT or Stanford of the north by proud Canadians, with good reason.

Its mathematics, computer science and engineering faculties are among the best in the world.

But soon, students there will have another way to touch the tech world. Apple is welcoming job applications for one of its shiny consumer playgrounds slash cash registers in Waterloo, population 120,000. An Apple store is coming soon.

Sure, its retail rather than research, but the symbolism could not be more potent if Steve Jobs had personally delivered an iPad 2 and iTunes gift card for Mike Lazaridis’ 50th birthday this month.

RIM faces challenges in a shifting mobile landscape, and the appeal of Apple’s pitch-perfect design aesthetic is high among them. It’s hoping its powerful PlayBook tablet and a wider product refresh will do the trick, but the jury is still out.

Apple’s Jobs recently boasted of paying out $2 billion to independent developers and the Cupertino company’s App Store certainly dominates the growing industry. 

But RIM’s BlackBerry App World punches above its weight, ranking second by revenue and, in part due to a much smaller number of apps, bringing in the highest average revenue per application.

In other words, it makes sense to write for RIM, if you believe they will still be making devices people want to buy in a few years.

While Apple and Google’s Android platform are reeling in customers and developers like there is no tomorrow, RIM turned to a rather less fashionable clientele: people with limited disposable income but a burning desire to communicate.

Around the world, that is a billion-strong audience that Apple can’t touch with its high-end iDevices. 

For more on the mobile wars, read our special report on RIM, “A PlayBook for fighting Apple and Google

Or read it in multimedia PDF format here.

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