It’s Time To Believe In RIM And The BlackBerry Again

Research In Motion, maker of the once ubiquitous BlackBerry, just released its Q4 2012 earnings. They’re not good. Revenue dropped to $4.2 billion, down 19% from the third quarter. Likewise, BlackBerry sales plummeted 21% from Q3 down to 11.1M units, but surprising, PlayBook sales were way up to 500k units. One of the company’s former co-CEO’s Jim Balsillie resigned amid what we’re hearing are deep layoffs throughout the company.

This is the first set of financial data released under the new CEO, Thorsten Heins. Even though there are black clouds looming over Waterloo, as my headline states, it’s time to believe in RIM again. The conditions are right for a rebirth.

For several years RIM has been the enemy of every upstart smartphone vender and more telling, innovation itself. RIM once held a staggering piece of the smartphone market share pie, but the company failed to keep pace with Apple and Google. Now, in 2012, a BlackBerry made today, looks, feels and works too similarly to one from five years ago.

RIM failed to curate a proper development ecosystem. The company launched the BlackBerry app store too late and failed to capitalize on the emergence of pure touchscreen devices. The BlackBerry PlayBook was a predictable failure thanks to its lack of core features and late arrival. The company even failed to oust its naive CEOs until just recently. In short RIM doesn’t know how to conduct business in a timely manner.

RIM is unique in the smartphone race. Its success is dictated by hardware sales and also services. Google and Apple know this. iOS and Android devices have been sneaking into RIM’s enterprise market since they were announced. But try as they might for years, they have failed to kick BlackBerrys out of the corner office. RIM’s platform is still the service of choice for many corporations, although that may change just this year.

IT managers and CTOs have stuck with RIM because of familiarity and the cost to change. Much like myself and most of you, they don’t care if one platform dominates over another. These IT managers do not want to see a product die just for the hell of it. They simply want a product that works and keeps the IT service calls down to a minimum. If RIM can keep moving forward at a steady pace — that’s a big “if” — they’ll retain many of these lucrative contracts. If RIM can deliver BB 10 devices on time — that’s an even bigger “if” — then the company might actually regain lost market share.

Thankfully for RIM, smartphone innovation has slowed drastically recently. Android and iOS are turning to novelties like bigger screens and silly voice controls to sell more devices. RIM couldn’t keep up with these platform’s product churn during their roaring early days. Since smartphone development has seemingly plateaued lately, RIM should be able to show up with competitive products that match the current standard feature set.

RIM’s days of ruling both the consumer and enterprise market are likely in the past. Products that are equally innovative and trendy are key to winning consumers. The upcoming BlackBerry 10 products look to be innovative enough although they’ll probably be far from trendy.

BlackBerry fanboys still exist. They’re out there and love their Bolds and Curves. There still isn’t a better email/messaging device than a BlackBerry. I would go back to a BlackBerry in a hot second if they had a similar feature set as an Android device. Much like Windows Phones now, BlackBerrys have always been about core features over apps. The company has also pretty much ignored the importance of apps. In fact the company’s managers seem ignorant on the matter.

With today’s earnings report, RIM is likely (hopefully) at the bottom. Its stock price is at its lowest point in nine years. Deep cuts (which seem to be happening) and a renewed focus on core values are needed. They need to stop blaming the press for their problems and not run crying to my editors when I joke that their execs spend more time golfing than working. (Note: That really happened. We all had a good chuckle.) It’s one thing not to champion a company anymore, only ignorant fanboys want to see a company simply die.

RIM is hopefully taking notes from Nokia’s recent resurgence. It wasn’t that long ago that Nokia was labeled as a has-been. Now Nokia is riding on a wave of novel products running a still-obscure operating system. RIM can, and hopefully will, do the same thing with BlackBerry 10 devices later this year.

For what it’s worth, the new CEO, Thorsten Heins, seems surprisingly open to any opportunity that could help turn the ailing company around. During RIM’s earnings conference call this afternoon, he reaffirmed to listeners that as part of his “strategic review,” he will consider options like licensing the the BlackBerry 10 operating system (even though no one knows what it looks like yet). Hell, when asked about the possibility of selling the company, he said he would consider it if his review pointed to it as a viable option, though he was quick to note that it’s not exactly Plan A.

RIM is beaten and laying on the floor. Together, Apple and Google knocked out the champ. Since then, they’ve started fighting each other, seemingly ignoring RIM as regains his strength. He might take another blow from time to time, but with a renewed focus he should stay on his feet from here on out. After years of savage beatings, he’s like the honey badger now and just doesn’t care.

(Chris Velazco contributed to this report)