It's been a tough year for smartphone maker Research In Motion (NYSE:BB). The stock is down more than 54% in the past year and has yet to show any signs of recovery. However, the company's new BlackBerry 10 platform recently won a critical security clearance with the U.S. government. Let's take a deeper look at what this means for Research In Motion going forward, and whether investors should take a chance on this beaten-down stock.
Back to basics
If you're one of a handful of RIM investors still hoping for a turnaround, then you're probably celebrating the company's recent return to its roots. Let me explain: With its long-expected BlackBerry 10 operating system now approved for use by federal and state government agencies, the company is getting back to what made it popular in the first place: security.
Before smartphone competitors such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Samsung really gained traction in the mobile space, RIM's BlackBerry was the device of choice for enterprise customers. More to this point, until last year BlackBerrys were the only smartphones approved for email use by the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, a series of missteps in the past year have sent RIM customers into the arms of the competition.
In March, Apple conquered the BlackBerry maker on its home turf, selling more iPhone devices in Canada than RIM sold BlackBerrys. The Mac maker has since continued to gain enterprise share from RIM. One reason for this was the company's decision earlier this year to delay the launch of BlackBerry 10 until the first quarter of 2013. This coupled with thousands of job cuts and declining profitability has left RIM fighting for its life.
While BlackBerry 10's FIPS security clearance win is certainly a baby step in the right direction; it will do little to impede the progress of RIM's competitors. For example, Bloomberg reported that "[t]he Defense Department last month said it plans to hire a contractor to build a system that will manage and secure at least 162,500 Android devices and Apple devices." Clearly, BlackBerry isn't the only platform secure enough for government agencies anymore.
Twice-delaying its updated operating system was one of the worst decisions RIM could have made, particularly because of growing enterprise competition from Apple's iOS, Google's Android software, and more recently Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 8 mobile. RIM's failure to innovate alongside other smartphone makers has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue from government customers. In recent months, major government departments and contractors including Booz Allen Hamilton and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped RIM in favor of Apple and Android-powered smartphones.
Two months ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced plans to switch over more than 17,600 employees from BlackBerrys to iPhone devices. The decision ended an eight-year partnership between RIM and the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Government consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton also joined the move away from BlackBerry, instead opting for iOS devices and Android handsets.
As more enterprise customers and government clients shift away from BlackBerrys, the less realistic a turnaround becomes. The stock has lost more than 95% of its value since its mid-2008 high. Unless RIM delivers a BlackBerry 10 operating system that out-innovates the competition, the company will continue to bleed market share.
A better idea...
This is an important time for the mobile industry. In fact, some reports indicate that global smartphone sales could reach upwards of $230 billion by the end of the year. Yet RIM continues to lose relevance, even in an industry that's growing at breakneck speed. I would love to see the company turn things around. However, I don't think secure email and messaging technology is enough to win back customers.
The smartphone platforms that are winning today feature rich media ecosystems of apps. This is something that RIM's BlackBerry devices lack. Apple has the App Store and Google has a marketplace that it calls Google Play.
Nevertheless, at this point RIM needs to do much more than merely match the product offerings of its competitors. Unfortunately, I doubt RIM will ever fully recover, which is why investors should instead focus on a proven innovator: Apple.
With Apple's iPhone 5 available in the U.S. and making its debut around the world, investors have a lot to look forward to. That said, the stakes are high and shares of Apple have been extra volatile lately as a result.