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If you can't beat 'em, you should probably license your stuff out to 'em. That's an old saying I heard once. In an industry with relentless competition and innovation, gaining the upper hand from the low ground is a near-impossible fight. While there isn't one simple answer, it doesn't seem like a bad idea to leverage the popularity and success of bigger rivals. I believe this may be Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) best opportunity.
Admitting fault and moving forward
Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins is not afraid to admit the shortcomings of his company. Though he was not on board when the company derailed, he has since become the leader charged with saving the team. The task hasn't been easy, and there haven't been many signs of improvement since he joined late in 2011.
What is encouraging is Heins' realism and open-mindedness. Instead of clinging to old business models and products and hopes of a miracle, Heins has agreed that RIM dropped the ball, and that drastic changes are needed. The upcoming BlackBerry 10 software platform has been hyped for quite some time, though multiple delays and a questionable demo model have analysts shaky about the product touted as the next evolution of the company.
Last quarter, sales were down 43% for the smartphone maker. Competition from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Samsung (OTC: SSNLF) was simply overpowering. It seems that, with the exception of some lingering corporate accounts, people just don't want a BlackBerry in their pocket.
So what do you do when no one wants the one thing you make? RIM is working on new, hopefully more desirable devices. However, we will likely see BB10 in other, non-RIM products.
Heins recently said, "The new platform is in the final stages of testing, and RIM is now considering how other companies may be able to use it in a range of products."
This can only be good for the beleaguered company, as it needs any exposure it can get. By putting a BlackBerry OS on a Samsung phone, the company is able to leave behind the old BlackBerry image and let users rediscover the software. This, of course, hinges on the new BB10 being a successful product itself. That's a serious "if."
In the eye of the storm
Unfortunately, because of the BB10 delays, the company is getting ready to release its first major software platform in years at a time when Apple is readying the launch of the iPhone 5. People will soon be grabbing their tents and lining up outside every Apple retailer in the world to grab one of the first 5's off the assembly line. I imagine, as the release nears, fewer and fewer people will be thinking of the upcoming BlackBerry operating system.
Nonetheless, this is a minimal-downside move for RIM, if the licensing goes through.
Though known for its smartphones and PlayBook tablet, Research In Motion has its eyes set far beyond the consumer products category.
Heins hinted at the company's future in mobile interactivity and what he calls, "machine-to-machine communications." I couldn't tell you quite what that means, as I am not known for my techiness, but I am happy to see the leadership at a firm that has lost 95% of its value in four years remain optimistic, active, and most importantly, innovative.
Know your tolerance
Just like a night out at the bar, be mindful of your risk tolerance. Research In Motion is not a safe bet by any means. It is a deep, deep value play that hinges on many "ifs."
A company like Apple, though still a technology firm and difficult to forecast years out, is a less risky, less volatile play on the smartphone industry (not to mention the rest of Apple's businesses). Our analysts have produced a premium report outlining the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead for the world's biggest tech firm. Read it here.