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RIM BlackBerry, Last try to convince the tech market

JOHANNESBURG – New Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins will attempt on Tuesday morning to prove to the world that BlackBerry may be down, but is far from out.

Exactly a month ago, RIM released fourth quarter earnings and the numbers were a disaster.

Revenue dropped 19%, handset shipments were down by 21% and it posted a net loss of $125m. Literally one-fifth of its business had evaporated between December 2011 and the end of last year.

But, unlike the previous head-in-sand management, the new CEO has admitted RIM faces “significant” challenges over the “next several quarters. He’s also moved swiftly and ensured that a number of executives have been replaced.

There are a few things counting in RIM’s favor – most importantly, its strength in emerging markets. Nearly 70% of its revenue in Q4 came from markets outside of the US, UK and Canada. South Africa, Indonesia and Venezuela are markets where BlackBerry remains very strong, and its performing well in some eastern European countries and across South-East Asia.

In his keynote address at the annual BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida, Heins has to somehow convince the tech press, investors and perhaps most importantly developers that the company’s new operating system, BlackBerry 10 will be a worthy challenger to iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
The operating system is the real differentiator in a world flooded with smartphones that look like clones of each other. But it’s not only the platform that dictates success (think Palm). The ecosystem – apps and services – is the kingmaker.

RIM knows this. And it knows it has to have competitive software on its devices. Its work on building out a fairly competitive ecosystem of apps on the BlackBerry PlayBook hasn’t been noticed by too many, and it will no doubt push to make sure there’s a quality range of apps available when BB10 is released.

But first, it’s no good being able to simply match the best in the market, you have to be better. And second, whatever RIM is working on needs to be great in six months time when the first BB10 device will be available. Six months is a long time. RIM runs the risk of completely underwhelming the market on Tuesday. Or the new boss could impress.

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