June 19, 2024

Research In Motion Eyes a Rebound

WATERLOO, Ontario — In a rare interview last week, Mike Lazaridis, one of Research In Motion’s two chief executives, was the one asking questions:

“Why is it that people don’t appreciate our profits? Why is it that people don’t appreciate our growth? Why is it that people don’t appreciate the fact that we spent the last four years going global? Why is it that people don’t appreciate that we have 500 carriers in 170 countries with products in almost 30 languages?”

He wrapped up with “I don’t fully understand why there’s this negative sentiment, and I just don’t have the time to battle it. Because in the end, what I’ve learned is you’ve just got to prove it over and over and over.”

Mr. Lazaridis can point to numbers that back up his frustrated defense of R.I.M., maker of the BlackBerry, the phone of choice in the White House and a global totem of connectedness. During its last fiscal year, the company, which is based here, shipped a record 52.3 million phones — a 43 percent increase over the previous year — and its fourth-quarter income of $924 million exceeded forecasts.

Nevertheless, as R.I.M. prepares to introduce its first tablet computer on April 19, doubts about its future have arguably never been greater.

Some analysts suggest that R.I.M. has lost its momentum and may now be heading downward, much like Palm, which in better days was expected to rub out the then-fledgling R.I.M. Current BlackBerrys are hobbled with an aging operating system, and the company’s market growth last year seems less impressive when contrasted with Apple’s 93 percent rise in iPhone shipments.

In a world where applications have become a major selling point for mobile devices, the number of apps available for BlackBerry phones is in the tens of thousands, compared with the hundreds of thousands for Android and Apple devices. BlackBerrys are still prized for their e-mail capabilities, particularly among government and corporate customers who rely on the devices’ tight security. But it is increasingly common to find people who carry a BlackBerry for e-mail and an iPhone for everything else.

That has led several analysts and investors to question R.I.M.’s ability to hold its own in a market dominated by devices running Google’s Android software, as well as iPhones and iPads. “They’ve been caught flat-footed,” said Jean-Louis Gassée, a former Apple executive, the former chairman of Palm’s software spinoff and a partner at Allegis Capital in Palo Alto, Calif. “They’ve built a tremendous company; they are people with distinguished backgrounds. They are not idiots, but they’ve behaved like idiots.”

Jim Balsillie, R.I.M.’s other chief executive, vigorously rejected suggestions that R.I.M. was ill-prepared for the changes in its markets. But he acknowledged that if it had moved earlier to introduce its tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, it could have improved perceptions of the company. And he agreed with critics on one thing: Many companies will struggle to adapt as the industry makes the huge shift to a world of powerful mobile computers.

“No other technology company other than Apple has successfully transitioned their platform,” Mr. Balsillie said in an interview. “It’s almost never done, and it’s way harder than you realize. This transition is where tech companies go to die.”

Mr. Balsillie says the PlayBook will show that R.I.M. has joined Apple in making that move. The tablet is important in part because it will be running R.I.M.’s first all-new operating system since the introduction of the BlackBerry over a decade ago. That software will also be on new phones that the company will release in the coming months.

Richard Tse, an analyst with Cormark Securities in Toronto, said the new operating system might prove to be as pivotal to R.I.M.’s future as Apple’s decision to bring back Steven P. Jobs in 1996 and to base its future technology on software he developed at NeXT Computer.

The other historical lesson comes from Palm, the hand-held computing pioneer, which failed to build up enough momentum for its new operating system and had to put itself up for sale. Hewlett-Packard bought it two years ago and is trying to revive the software in its own tablet due later this year, called the TouchPad.

R.I.M.’s equivalent to NeXT is another Canadian company, QNX Software Systems, which it acquired a year ago. It specializes in highly reliable operating systems that are used, among other things, to control systems in automobiles and airplanes as well as nuclear reactors.

Jenna Wortham contributed reporting from New York.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cc13e8a5ecd0a9c0fc9f514d7c101d91

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