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Asymcar 13: Pilgrimages and Fundamental Evil


On continental trips, diesel engines and autobahn speeds, pilgrimages to Porsche and BMW’s brand meccas.

How to understand the world through toy cars, from Matchbox to Hot Wheels, Siku, Majorette to Tomica.

On the business of car distribution, “channel stuffing” and the origins of state franchise regulation.

Reflections on Apple’s routing around now-defunct computer retail channels via its highly successful stores.

via Asymcar 13: Pilgrimages and Fundamental Evil | Asymcar.

RIM's tailspin

The number of BlackBerry phones sold fell 41% year-on-year in the last RIM fiscal quarter. Sequentially the fall was 30%. Though surprisingly poor, I note that Nokia’s smartphone business fell even more dramatically last quarter (down 50% y/y and 39% sequentially). LG also saw a 44% decline in unit shipments in Q1.

The history of smartphone shipments for the largest vendors is shown in the following chart:

From forecasts made by Huawei it’s probable that they overtook RIM in the last quarter, dropping RIM to 5th or 6th ranked vendor in smartphone units.

RIM’s 7.8 million units is the same level of sales as it had in early 2009. The total market was only about 250 million units per quarter then. It’s around 400 million today. A quick calculation shows that RIM’s smartphone market share has fallen from a peak of 22% to about 6%.

RIM’s stock performance reflects this performance relative to the market.

RIM to give up

RIM’s CEO, Thorsten Heins was quoted as saying, “We plan to refocus on the enterprise business and capitalize on our leading position in this segment. We believe that BlackBerry cannot succeed if we tried to be everybody’s darling and all things to all people. Therefore, we plan to build on our strength.”

via RIM to give up most consumer markets | Ubergizmo.

RIM’s latest quarterly results show a continuation of the decline in sales that began in Q1 2011.

Here are the highlights:

The parable of RIM

Here are the highlights from RIM’s latest quarter:

  • 14.1 million BlackBerry smartphones shipped, 13 million sold through
  • 150k PlayBook shipped with sell-through slightly higher. 800k PlayBooks shipped so far.
  • BlackBerry subscriber base up to 75 million
  • High growth cited for U.K., France, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. RIM is the #1 smartphone vendor in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Sales outside the US, UK and Canada were 61% of revenues. US is now 20% of sales, UK 11%.
  • Hardware growth outside the US was 56%
  • There are 630 carriers
  • 50k apps in App World with 5 million downloads per day
  • Forecasting 11 to 12 million smartphones next quarter

Given the channel fill with a new product, the device business was marginal at best. The company obtained -1% growth y/y in units but 31% sequential growth from a transitional quarter. The average selling price (inclusive of service revenues) is $354 and about $280 excluding service revenues. I estimate that operating margins have dropped to about 11%. Not a good story, but one we have been warned to expect.

But a crucial new twist to the story is that RIM announced that they don’t expect new BlackBerry 10 devices until late next year. That came as a surprise and the stock sold off significantly, valuing the company at well below book value.

Stepping back, the biggest surprise is that the company seems to have had no plan for sustaining itself.

Let me explain.

RIM and the lamentation of the analyst

RIM shipped 10.6 million Blackberries and 200,000 PlayBooks in the last quarter. Management noted that their sell-through was significantly higher for Blackberry (13.7 million) but seems to be very weak for PlayBook as the prior quarter saw 500k units shipped. Additional PlayBook units this quarter probably mostly went into new channels in Asia and there were no additional sales into North America or Europe.

The figures for units are very poor. How poor depends on the frame of reference. Consider the shipment chart below:

In terms of the competition, 10.6 million units is less than half what Apple or Samsung sold in its prior quarter. It’s also less | Nobody wants to buy RIM

Технологии и наука | Хорацио Дедиу: Никой не иска да купи Research In Motion RIM – Капитал.

My thanks again to Andrian Georgiev for interview questions [Bulgarian] related to RIM. My answers to his questions (in English) are below:

Q: What should RIM do to reinvent itself? Should it stray from its business-oriented image?

RIM had begun to move away from a business image already in 2005 or so when it started its “Pearl” brand and a consumer-oriented strategy. The company probably foresaw that business customers would not be enough to maintain the growth they had become accustomed to. The strategy has led to a growing popularity in Latin America and other regions like the Middle East where the product is used as a low-cost alternative to SMS for avid texters. Even in the US, many teenagers use Blackberries instead of iPhones because they can use it for the BBM service (at a lower cost). I believe that it is not coincidence that iMessage was launched.

The company’s salvation is not in branching into new markets but in establishing a credible platform. When Nokia announced that they would be the “third option” after the iPhone and Android ecosystems, they did not even mention the Blackberry. The fact that Blackberry is not seen as an ecosystem is the root of the problem.

Q: How should RIM accelerate the introduction of QNX?

Peak RIM

In their monthly survey update on US phone usage, comScore reported that by the end of April 74.6 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones. In the same period a year ago only 48.1 million did. The percent of smartphone users out of total phone users has reached 32%.

The following data points can also be deduced:

  • 2.1 million or 474k people/week became smartphone users during April.
  • 62% of smartphones in use in the US are either Android or iOS. The sum a year ago was 37%.
  • There are about 20 million iPhone users and 27 million Android users in the US today. A year ago there were 12 and 6 million respectively.
  • RIM’s US user base peaked at 22 million in Sept 2010. It is now 19 million and dropping.
  • Usage of Microsoft mobile operating systems in the US is in steady decline dropping from 7 to 5 million users in one year.
  • During April 475,000 people abandoned their Blackberries.
  • Android and iOS gained 3 million users in April. One million switched from other smartphones and 2 million switched from non-smartphones.

The following chart shows the evolution of installed base share of platforms among users of smartphones in the US.

Is RIM's management the cause of its failure?

“Jim and Mike brought the company to where it is … which is part of the biggest problem they’re facing,” said Charter Equity analyst Ed Snyder, who has covered RIM since its public listing in 1997, two years before the BlackBerry was launched.

“They’re stuck in the past. They know what worked and keep playing that card and it’s not working any more, and they don’t seem to have any ideas,” he said.

via BAY STREET-As RIM struggles, talk of a change at top surfaces | Reuters.

In the case of Apple, the departure of the founder is considered a grave threat to the continuing success of the company.

In the case of RIM and Microsoft, the continued tenure of the founders is considered a grave threat to the success of the company.

Clearly, the theory that founders of successful companies can assure continuing success is flawed. Coupled to that implied causality is that departure of founders is always a problem.

Both are reflections of the idea that companies are predominantly successful (or fail) because of the skill (or incompetence) of a small group of individuals.

What the idea fails to explain is why companies fail (or succeed) as a cohort. RIM’s troubles are similar to Microsoft and to Nokia’s. Did they conspire or collude to fail simultaneously? Historically, incumbents fail simultaneously, regardless of who’s in charge.

And what about the problem that a company goes from success to failure (and vice-versa) while the same management is in charge. The “smart manager” theory of company success is as pervasive as the “stupid manager” theory of company failure. The perplexing thing is that while both of these theories are applied within the lifetime of a company, the management does not change.

Apple, RIM and HTC captured 75% of mobile phone operating profits in Q1

I produced two alternate views of the primary mobile phone brands in terms of volumes sold and operating profit in Q1.

These views[1] allow a comparison by categorized competitors. I grouped dedicated smartphone vendors (SMART) vs. diversified and used color coding for profitability (blue colors indicate loss-making vendors).

The same view is drawn for profitability. Loss-making competitors are excluded.

Understanding RIM's tablet platform app strategy

Yesterday RIM reported their quarterly earnings. The results were mixed to slightly negative and the shares were down 10% in after-hours trading.

I’ll work through the smartphone market data at a later time but for now what I want to focus on is RIM’s strategy which really means understanding RIM’s intentions or their approach to the market. For that we have to go straight to the source: what management actually says. Trouble is, management often speaks in a jargon that is unfamiliar to people (sometimes unfamiliar to anyone outside the company).

Strategy analysis involves translation. So here follows the interpretation of Jim Balsillie’s remarks during the conference call (transcript sourced from