Can RIM's BlackBerry Fight Off Apple's iPhone and Google's Android?

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After it reports earnings Thursday, Research In Motion (RIMM) will try to explain to Wall Street how its BlackBerry devices can reclaim some buzz from Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG), which have stormed the mobile market with slick new smart phones.

RIM is looking to deliver better news than last quarter, when investors sent the company's stock down 7% despite higher revenues and profits. The company's shares have fallen 12% this year on fears of greater competition. Wall Street will want to hear about new hardware and technology-- starting with the BlackBerry 9800 touchscreen device.

"The expectations are that they're going to want to get a new product out into the marketplace in time for September, because that is when you get the back-to-school and big consumer push," Mackie Research Capital analyst Nick Agostino told Reuters.

Holding a Lead, For Now

As its two biggest rivals battle for the smart-phone spotlight with twin high-profile launches this week -- Apple's iPhone 4 and Motorola's Google-powered Droid X -- RIM is clinging to its position in a rapidly changing and highly competitive mobile phone market, where a few bad choices can doom once high-flying companies (see Palm).

As of February, RIM held 42.1% of the smart-phone market share, followed by Apple with 25.4%, according to comScore. Google claimed 9% but that number is sure to be higher by now.

Despite ferocious competition, RIM is benefiting from the increasing consumer adoption of smart phones, which are slowly eating into the significant market lead held by so-called "feature phones" -- basic devices that lack the bells and whistles of their fancier brethren.

Global smart-phone sales increased 48.7% in the first quarter of 2010, compared to overall mobile-phone growth of 17%, according to research firm Gartner. While other companies like Nokia (NOK) have struggled to crack the smart-phone market, RIM has had a good foothold thanks to heavy adoption throughout corporate America.

Hazards Ahead

But RIM, which almost single-handedly introduced mobile email a decade ago, also faces challenges. In just four years, RIM has acquired two powerful foes, Apple and Google. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it rocked the mobile phone industry and instantly set a high standard for smart-phone makers. Google's aggressive development of its Android mobile operating system has only added to the competition.

Both Apple and Google have been hungrily eying RIM's lead in the enterprise market. On the consumer front, both Apple and Google understood early that a rich application ecosystem would be central to the next generation of mobile devices. Apple now offers over 200,000 applications, while Google boasts over 70,000. BlackBerry has been late to the apps game -- it only offers 7,000 programs.

RIM expects to have sold 11.2 million to 11.8 million phones last quarter and added 4.9 million to 5.2 million subscribers. Wall Street expects the company to post earnings of $1.34 a share on revenue of $4.35 billion, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
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