James Ashton: Best option for beleaguered RIM may be to look for a buyer

Hordes of vandals used the Messenger to co-ordinate last summer's London riots

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The Independent Online

You can always measure how much trouble a company is in by how far from its roots it strays to find a new chief executive. Nokia imported Microsoft's Stephen Elop from the west coast of America to Finland, while Hewlett-Packard lured Leo Apotheker to Silicon Valley from Paris for his testing 10 months at the helm of the technology giant.

Research in Motion has picked an insider to replace its outmoded executive double-act but, despite five years' service, Thorsten Heins is a firm break with the past.

The question is, how much time will the German have to settle in at the BlackBerry maker, which underscores its Canadian heritage with meeting rooms that are named after ice hockey greats?

This is a company whose best years are behind it. For a decade, BlackBerrys were the executive's favourite corporate plaything. But they have been under attack from Apple's iPhone and a slew of cheaper handsets powered by Google's Android operating system. It seems a long time since Barack Obama was snapped hunched over his BlackBerry on the election trail in 2008. As publicity goes, it was gold dust. Less positive for the brand were the hordes of vandals who used BlackBerry Messenger to co-ordinate last summer's London riots.

BlackBerry made strides away from the corporate market, but consumers favour fashion over function these days. Even if it is harder to punch out an email on the iPhone's touch screen, Apple's sleek design wins out.

Selling out to Microsoft or the Korean giant Samsung, which is intent on beefing up its smartphone offering, may be RIM's best option.