Research In Motion: A Year in Review, and a Look Ahead


The words "good riddance" couldn't be more applicable than when they were directed toward Research In Motion founders, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, to kick off 2012. The two leaders, did their darmnedest to run RIM into the ground, trying desperately to make the Blackberry obsolete in the exploding mobile industry. They almost succeeded.

Thankfully, RIM's world began to look better on Jan . 23; that was the day it announced that Thorsten Heins was taking over as CEO. Even Heins, though, who has since reinvigorated both RIM and its share price, got off to a shaky start.

Oops, did I say that?
Heins' auspicious beginning began on his very first conference call as RIM CEO. After RIM's share price initially spiked upon news that Balsillie and Lazaridis were out, Heins sucked the air from the room when he stated, "I don't think that there is some drastic change needed." RIM stock proceeded to drop 8%. Clearly, drastic change was needed and, thankfully for RIM shareholders, it was coming.

While the hardest of RIM's hardcore fans wouldn't admit it, Balsillie's and Lazaridis' refusal to move into the 21st century made their departure an absolute necessity. When Balsillie finally resigned his board seat in March, the sigh of relief was audible. Heins did an about face, too, when he retracted his "no change is needed" at RIM comment, and replaced it with , "significant change is needed." That's more like it.

The "significant change" at RIM really began when Heins finally got his team focused on what it does best -- provide outstanding flexibility, security, and reliability to mobile business and public industry customers. Targeting Blackberry sales to its core market is the only way RIM is going to rejuvenate sales.

The notion of being all things to all people is, at least in part, what got RIM into trouble in the first place. Balsillie and Lazaridis refused to acknowledge the obvious, and continued to vigorously go after the retail market. Problem is, those choices put RIM directly in the path of several oncoming trains -- Apple and its iPhone line of smartphones was growing market share almost exponentially, and Samsung would soon take over the top spot in mobile phone sales from longtime leader, Nokia .

Add the successful Nexus smartphone from Google into the mix, not to mention its Android OS, and the already hyper-competitive retail mobile market has gotten even tougher. Though most of the retail smartphone alternatives are able to connect with a company's IT systems in their own way, none can match the reputation in the business and government community of RIM.

Nokia finds itself in a similar position as RIM, in that both are hinging growth and, in a very real sense, their respective futures, on making a splash with new products. The difference is that Nokia is working at gaining market share in the world of Apple's iPhone 5, Samsung's Galaxy, and Google's Nexus -- a tall order, to say the least, and one that RIM is wise to merely dabble in.

Looking ahead
Monday, Nov. 12, was a red-letter day for RIM shareholders. The much anticipated release of the BB10 OS, and a couple of new phones to go along with it, was finally announced. At the time of RIM's press release, its stock was hovering in the $8.50 range. After today's slight bump, RIM is now over $14 a share, and nearing its 52-week high; what a turnaround. Even a recent lawsuit filed by Nokia claiming that RIM infringed on its patents, couldn't slow down RIM's BB10-fueled momentum.

So, what's the big deal about BB10?

The new BlackBerry 10 has "a large catalog of the leading applications from across the globe and across all categories," according to the RIM press release. No definitive specs, as yet, but it certainly sounds like users won't have to wait for the apps to catch up with their phones, something Microsoft's Windows 8 OS is struggling with. For navigation, BlackBerry 10 will use RIM's new "Flow" to navigate in and out of the BlackBerry Hub.

With at least one eye on the retail market, the new BlackBerry Balance gives users a way to seamlessly bounce back and forth between work and personal data, maintaining all-important security for the business side of things. There's also the BB10 Keyboard. The app "learns" how a user types, and then automatically adapts itself to the idiosyncrasies of each user.

To its credit, even as year-over-year quarterly sales have steadily declined, RIM has continued to add to its strong balance sheet. With just over $2 billion in cash, and zero long-term debt, RIM has bought itself time for the commercial world to adopt BB10. But here's the thing -- a bet on RIM is a bet on BB10, period. If, by some chance, BB10 disappoints, 2013 will be much like the start of 2012: painful.

Like RIM, Nokia's been struggling in a world of Apple and Android smartphone dominance. Nokia has banked its future on the next iteration of its Windows smartphones. Motley Fool analyst Charly Travers has created a new premium report that digs into both the opportunities and risks facing Nokia, to help investors decide if the company is a buy or a sell. To get started, simply click here now.

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