Thousands of software developers, solution providers and telecom managers and corporate executives will descend on Orlando on Monday for Research In Motion’s annual BlackBerry World conference.
It will be the first time they’ll hear new CEO Thorsten Heins in person and get details of the upcoming next generation BlackBerry 10 operating system.
Developers will be given demo BB10 handsets so they can get an idea of how apps they create will perform and look. A software development kit will be released. The long-promised 4G version of the PlayBook tablet might appear.
But no one from Toronto mobile software developer Bnotions is going. “This year there really isn’t any new news that has us on the edge of our seat,” explained CEO Paul Crowe.
Instead, he and his staff will monitor announcements online.
It’s symbolic of the trouble RIM is in.
Despite the conference’s hype many customers and partners are wondering if this will be the last event of its kind. RIM has been losing sales and revenue to Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Android-based smart phones and its stock has steadily fallen, raising questions about the company’s future: Will it abandon making handsets? What assets will it sell? Will it be bought?
Heins has replaced the company’s co-CEOs, is reviewing every inch of operations and suggested almost anything is on the table for the future, including selling all or parts of the business.
The fact is RIM is in a holding pattern until BB10 and a handset that can run it is released later this year. And even then, no one is expecting explosive sales that will double or triple its market share.
Even Heins acknowledges that it will take “a few months or a few quarters” for BB10 to find its feet.
Some industry analysts aren’t sure the company has time on its side.
“If it isn’t wildly unsuccessful, RIM is going to be in serious trouble,” says Michael Morgan, senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research. “If it is very successful, RIM will be able to tread water and try to rebuild.”
In other words, under the best case scenario in the short term would just hold on to the market share RIM has. Can the company gain in market share? “History says no,” Morgan replied. But, he added, the new platform makes it possible.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, argues that Apple Inc. was in worse shape when Steve Jobs returned to the helm in 1996 and – eventually – turned that company into a powerhouse.
“He brought it back from what was clearly the brink of death,” Enderle said. “RIM’s not there yet, but they very quickly need to get their arms around a strategy that works. They’ve got a lot of good technology, and what’s left of a loyal customer base. But they’re clearly bleeding customers like I’ve never seen a company bleed before, and if they don’t stop it pretty quick they’re going to be done.”