Consider what RIM had to overcome to even be: It was an outsider entering the mobile phone business at a time when incumbent market power was far more concentrated. It evolved from data-only pagers awkwardly adapted to carry voice without pandering to the fashion consciousness of its contemporaries obsessed as they were with the RAZR. Its foothold market was the most difficult market to enter, the US; and within it, in most difficult sector–business users.
RIM’s solution has no architectural elegance and their non-standard approach to email using their own servers and protocols defied all IT policies regarding security and the entrenched use of Exchange. Even after Microsoft offered a cleaner solution (Exchange push) that avoided the RIM back end, businesses otherwise committed to Microsoft stuck with RIM for mobile email. In spite of various government opposition, RIM continues to grow internationally.
Even its acceptance may be an accident of history.
The absence of interoperable SMS in the US early last decade meant that there was no reliable way to send text from one mobile to another across CDMA and GSM networks. The Blackberry was hired to to the same job that SMS was hired to do anywhere else, but by the time SMS was working in the US, the use of Blackberry increased irrespectively.
It should be no wonder then that the company can be considered both disruptive and a dead end. Analysts have been split about it from day one. Gartner advised against adoption by any self-respecting IT shop.
Equities analysts are still split into bulls and bears more evenly than any other company in this space. See: RIMM: Street Split Sharply On The Stock; Avian Cuts Rating (Updated) – Tech Trader Daily – Barrons.com
The arguments are pretty straight forward:
- Competitive pressure from ‘better’ architectures, uninspiring products, lower growth
- Fierce loyalty of users, continuing international expansion, continuing growth
The market has largely voted with the bears as the price shows absurdly low valuation (4.3x EV/EBITDA) but the company continues to show growth quarter after quarter.
My own point of view has been for some time that RIM’s disruptive days are over because the engineer in me says that their code base is a dead end. But the disruptive analyst in me leads me to be hesitant in proclaiming their imminent demise. The fact remains that their product is good enough for a subset of the users who want nothing more than a messaging phone. I will add however that this subsets unlikely to grow especially relative to the number of users who will opt for more highly functional devices.
So the riddle of RIM remains: rumors of its death has been exaggerated but it’s not an unforeseeable growth story anymore. As a result the company is in limbo.