RIM has a PR problem: A couple of videos, filmed and rendered in the emerging-as-classic "what the future will be like"-style overlayed with electro-orchestral music, have leaked online. They're called Future Visions, and RIM's already issued a couple of copyright requests to YouTube to have some versions taken down.
That's not the problem, though. The problem is that the vision of the future RIM is peddling could be mistaken for a tribute to Microsoft's recent "Productivity Future Vision" clip, filmed on a trip to an office that's already embraced tablets and smartphones into its daily operations, and with a dab of IP lifted from Apple's extensive patent portfolio. The clips are the futurology equivalent of taking someone else's two-day leftover pizza from the fridge, dribbling it with some ketchup and tabasco in the vain hope of injecting some of your own flavor into it, and popping it in the microwave to have it warmed over.
Dare we suggest we see a Siri rip-off in these videos, and more than a hint of Microsoft's smooth, typography-led UI design from Windows Phone 7? Augmented reality is all over these clips, too, as is multi-person video calling...both technologies that are already highly developed as apps on Android and iOS platforms as well as traditional computers. There's even a hint of direct data transfer, perhaps through a tech like NFC, that links a handheld smartphone to a bigger tablet--in the way HP's aborted TouchPad connected to Pre smartphones.
There's also irony a-plenty in RIM's imagined future. RIM has been lambasted for dragging its heels as the touchscreen/multitouch revolution swept smartphone design, and yet the thick, chunky (or as perhaps RIM's imagineers would have it, "reliable," and "business-like") smartphones in the video take the idea to the max and make the entire face of the phone a touchscreen.
To give RIM credit, among the few nearly impossible tech demos (like screens appearing on your kitchen worktop, a surface remarkably clear of crumbs or coffee dribbles), the highly integrated future the company foresees is perhaps a little closer to reality than MS's shiny-bauble efforts. Electricity systems break down in the videos, personal navigation is still a problem, business meetings happen pretty much the way they do already, and the devices in use could be about 80% constructed using tech we already have mastered.
But this closeness to reality, ironically, exposes a harsh truth: RIM's vision here doesn't offer better ways for us to do anything with its shiny fictitious products than we already manage with real existing hardware and software. If RIM had shown us a product identifiable in some way as having a BlackBerry feel to it, being used in an incredible way to solve a problem faced daily by millions, or RIM hardware applied in a super-slick way to smooth and speed a typical business irritation that no one else has managed to fix yet, then we'd be happier. If we'd seen a RIM phone held over a MS Word document on a screen, with the phone saying "I see Word has accidentally reformatted your entire document. Here's how to fix this..." then we'd applaud, because that would be original, and it could save the world billions of lost man-hours of productivity. That's right alongside RIM's traditional stomping ground of helping enterprise users be more efficient.
As it is, knowing what we know, we're left with a nagging feeling that RIM's vision of the future actually belongs to other tech companies. That's very worrying for a once world-leading brand that must still be trying lots of R&D.