Analysts and industry players have begun circling Research In Motion like vultures lately, but the BlackBerry maker's co-CEOs don't seem particularly concerned with the negative attention.
BMO Capital Markets this morning became the latest firm to lower its rating on RIM's stock, with analyst Tim Long saying that the company is too reliant on Verizon Wireless, which accounts for some 30 percent of RIM revenue, and that the Storm 2 doesn't match up to its touchscreen competitors. And while BlackBerry remains the king of the U.S. smartphone, it's facing a daunting threat from Apple's iPhone and a seemingly endless deluge of Google Android phones.
But RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, in an interview with Reuters, pointed out that this isn't the first time his company has faced naysayers: "When we went public [in 1997] everyone was saying, ‘Oh my God, you're going to get crushed by Motorola, Ericsson and paging and this emerging Nokia. I'm not trying to be dismissive, and I'm not trying to be glib, but this has played before, several times."
The situation, however, is entirely different this time, with RIM trying to hold off mobile upstarts like Google. While RIM remains the dominant supplier of phones to the enterprise, chinks have begun to show in its armor. If Apple, Palm and Google devices start showing up more frequently in corporations, and RIM can't compete in the consumer market with devices like Storm 2, what kind of future does the company have?
At least that appears to be the conventional thinking at the moment. Gartner in October predicted that BlackBerry, which is in second place globally in terms of market share, would fall to fifth by 2012. It later amended that prediction, boosting BlackBerry to third behind Nokia and Android but ahead of Apple.
Last week, Gartner said that Apple had seen its share grow in the third quarter to 17.1 percent, up from 12.9 percent in the same period last year. Apple overtook RIM in Western Europe, said analyst Nick Jones on his blog, adding, "That's impressive, but it will be more of a shock to RIM when Apple overtake[s] them in the U.S. -- which will happen at some point."
Fine, but according to Gartner's own data, RIM saw its share of the global market increase even more -- from 16 percent to 20.8 percent.
But that's temporary, say analysts, as RIM's chokehold on the corporate environment dissolves and its phones' features fail to match up. Google is the future, they say, and they may have a point. In one year, Google saw its share of the smartphone market rise from noting to 3.5 percent. All of the major carriers are offering up Androids, and devices like the Droid are getting good buzz and substantial marketing pushes.
So RIM is doomed to fail? Not exactly. The company is bound to lose share to the Android army and the iPhone, but its collapse assumes that RIM can't catch up technologically. I, for one, think that's a big assumption.
Does anyone really think RIM isn't going to do something about a Web browser that is seen as laughable, and application offerings that are sorely lacking? In August, the company bought Web browser Torch Mobile for obvious reasons. And RIM has been reaching out to developers and making it easier to work with the platform.
And don't forget that RIM's enterprise-focused background is an asset. As Mike Kirkup, RIM's director of developer relations, told InformationWeek last week, "It's much easier to go from enterprise to consumer because once you get the foundation correct, it's easy to turn off features if you want. Things like security and the basic building blocks that are required for businesses are difficult to add in after the fact."Mike Lazaridis, RIM's other co-CEO, acknowledged that his company's approach to the booming smartphone market hasn't been perfect, but he thinks the critics are selling RIM short. "I would not sit here and say to you that we've never made mistakes," he said. "We've plenty of mistakes. But we've learned from them and we recovered well." Let's see how they do this time.