As famous (or infamous?) former analyst Henry Blodget notes, Wall Street analysts are usually the last to warn of an impending train wreck -- since when they cut a stock rating to "sell," they both burn their relationship with the company and burn clients who own the company's stock. But last week several analysts threw in the towel and downgraded Research In Motion.
Largely due to reportedly lackluster sales of RIM's new BlackBerry Torch and its BlackBerry OS 6, some are comparing RIM's future to that of Palm's just a few years ago. They draw a parallel between the disappointing sales of the Palm Pre smartphone that accelerated the downward spiral that led to the fire-sale acquisition of Palm by HP, and RIM's current struggle to hold onto its smartphone leadership position in the face of competition from Apple's iPhone and the explosive growth of Google's Android mobile platform.
In cutting his rating on RIM stock, Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum cited "mounting evidence that [RIM] could lose share faster than we had been modeling." Cutting his estimate of RIM's share of the global smartphone market in calendar 2012 to 13.1 percent, down from his previous projection of 16 percent, Gelblum said he expects RIM to suffer its first down year in enterprise subscribers in fiscal 2013, which he projects to total 16.9 million, down from his prior estimate of 21.5 million.
In addition to the threat of government shutdowns of the BlackBerry service overseas, Gelblum sees threats to RIM's until-recently unassailable enterprise user base, such as the "bring your own phone" approach to mobile devices that is gaining momentum in corporations and creating inroads for iPhone and Android.
Gelblum and others don't see BlackBerry OS 6 as a credible answer to iPhone and Android, particularly as an application platform that can attract critical mass. Silicon Insider's Dan Frommer not only invokes the memory of Palm, but calls for RIM to abandon its own OS and apps store and migrate the BlackBerry to the Android platform.
He correctly points out that the BlackBerry user base is more loyal to the back-end server platform than the device OS, and that the addition of BlackBerry would be a huge boost to Android, which is already on the verge of world domination. If RIM were an Android vendor in the second quarter of this year, he notes, Android would have had 35 percent of the world's smartphone market, versus just 14 percent for Apple's iPhone, according to IDC numbers. (RIM had 18 percent and Android 17 percent.)
The switch would not be without challenges in making sure its back-end servers work seamlessly with Android devices, Frommer notes, and RIM would end up "another player in a large pack of Android vendors, fighting over hardware design and add-on services," much the way all the Windows PC makers fight over a commoditized market.
But it's likely a better alternative to RIM watching its platform "age into obscurity," he adds.