Should Research In Motion be sold?
This question has popped up countless times over the last six months. If you had asked me two months ago, I would have little in defense for why RIM should not be bought. The past three years have been a rather rough time for the Waterloo-based company. Up until last month, device after device has been a letdown, and the company has simply had a terrible time innovating and updating their lineup to compete in the same level as modern smartphones.
After several months of lackluster earnings reports, slipping market share and stock prices, investors called for reform. RIM's sixth-largest investor pulled their entire stake and a handful of others (with the support of the shareholders) called for a motion to split the pair of CEOs up. Before the vote was taken at the Annual General Meeting, RIM put together a group of independent directors to dissect the roles of the CEOs and decide the best way to split them up. This gives Mark Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie little time to prove their worth and see their endgame through, but at least they weren't uprooted without a chance to defend themselves.
We're now a week into September and one investor is throwing another card on the table. Bloomberg is now reporting that Jaguar Financial Corporation CEO Vic Alboini – with the support of an unknown amount of anonymous shareholders – is now suggesting the company should undergo a transformational change; either patents should be sold off to increase shareholder value or the company should consider a sale. He fears that RIM is putting all of their hopes of turning the company around into QNX. If that gamble fails, RIM has no backup plan and Alboini fears that RIM may face bankruptcy.
So should RIM be sold? ... No.
Over the last year, RIM has acquired some major players in the mobile realm like Torch Mobile, QNX, The Astonishing Tribe and several more. Bringing together two companies to create one end product is hard enough. But RIM faces the task of bringing a handful of companies together and stitching all of the products together to create a polished work of art. It's a timely process and the result of such a product could be huge for the company. But it can't be rushed; otherwise, it will look like patchwork. And patchwork is the last thing RIM needs right now. They need something smooth, something that can taunt even the infamous iOS. That is easily doable with TAT on your side.
A lot has changed since Kevin Michaluk predicted that Google should buy the very company responsible for his crack-like addiction. Google proposed to buy Motorola and BlackBerry 7 devices have launched. No, the new devices are not mind-blowing or revolutionary, but Aaron and I were both pleasantly surprised by the new BlackBerrys and the improvements over last year's models. This BlackBerry 7 stepping stone shows that with slight upgrades in both software and hardware, RIM can easily re-enter the smartphone race – not without a little extra struggle and elbow grease, that is. It has just taken them a painstakingly long time to realize this.
The hardware displayed in the new devices is fantastic and the software is just a placeholder for better things to come. Given the chance, QNX BlackBerrys will hopefully be available by Q1 next year and if RIM's recent releases are any clue as to how QNX phones will be, they're going to be awesome. It'd be a shame for some random company to swoop in an kill the slightest bit of momentum (the first in ages) that RIM has right now.
The only QNX device currently available from RIM is the PlayBook, which has been the recipient of mixed reviews across the board. The software is rather impressive and offers a second to none multitasking experience. But due to Bridge software, questionable hardware, lack of application support and price point, the PlayBook has hardly caught an eye in the presence of the iPad and the few popular Android tablets. Granted, the Bridge and application situations are only temporary and will soon be solved with native BlackBerry apps and the ability to run Android apps on QNX. Given a more thoughtful design (for instance, the barely usable power button), more time in the workshop and more consideration over asking price, the PlayBook could have actually been a contender. If they can acknowledge this and avoid the same missteps in their phones, RIM just might be able to pull out of this rut.
Not to mention, if someone were to purchase RIM, their key philosophies would be thrown to the wind. The "businessman's phone" would no longer be catered to the needs of a business from the core, but a consumer product slightly altered to simply "get the job done." And those keyboards? Unless RIM's current brains behind the topnotch mobile QWERTYs are kept on hand, kiss the days of BlackBerry keyboards goodbye. Companies have tried to replicate the work of RIM in the form of hardware keyboards to no avail. Quite frankly, I don't want to see RIM go through what has happened to Palm. If a company were to buy RIM, the likeliness of them knowing how to steer the ship without capsizing is slim.
There are a handful of reasons why someone should buy RIM, but just as many, if not more, why RIM should be given one last shot. Lazaridis and Balsillie have been given six months to prove that they are capable of pulling RIM from this slump, and from the looks of it, they might just have a chance. I say give them the time they were to granted to see things through before throwing in the towel. If January comes around and RIM is in no better a situation than their current one, then go through the options, take necessary action. I hardly believe it could get much worse for RIM by then.
What say you, folks? Is it time for RIM to be sold off to avoid bankruptcy? Or do the co-CEOs have what it takes for an eleventh hour turnaround?
Image via BlackBerry Cool