Only a few years ago, it was hard to predict the RIM downfall. But if you listened to Silicon Valley insiders, RIM’s decline has been inevitable for more than a decade.

RIM became known for its dead simple, really useful wireless email service. In 1998, RIM launched its first pager, the size of a bar of soap, and no one else was doing this near as nicely. C’mon! Email, streamed quickly and reliably over a fun little pocket-sized device? What’s not to like? RIM finessed its device, gaving birth to the “Blackberry” in 1999. The device won ardent fans among the plugged-in set, including Wall Street and other white-collar professionals. The power emailers. The device was too expensive for normal people, but BlackBerry won the hearts and minds of corporate executives. Over the next decade, it sewed up the enterprise market. It became known as the “CrackBerry.” People couldn’t put it down.

But as early as 2002, Silicon Valley insiders were taking swipes at RIM. I remember chatting with Bruce Dunlevie, a partner at Benchmark Capital, located on the valley’s Sand Hill Road. He told me that RIM was really a hardware company stuck in the past. Based in Canada, far away from the valley, RIM didn’t really “get” software, he told me. So he’d invested in a Silicon Valley company called Good Technology. Good focused on software. It had launched a service in 2002 that aimed to compete against the BlackBerry. Good’s wireless email service was agnostic, and so was built to be served over any device. The plan sounded good. But for several reasons, the timing wasn’t right. Broadband capacity was nascent, networks didn’t offer GPS yet, and the killer interface popularized by Apple, along with an appealing software SDK, still hadn’t been invented. Good struggled as an independent company, and it was sold to Motorola. The same thing happened to the Treo, the smartphone launched by Handspring (later acquired by Palm) in 2002. The Treo struggled to bring all of the software pieces...