Research In Motion Ltd (BBRY): How BlackBerry Decided to Beat Apple Inc. (AAPL)

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Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)
CEO Thorsten Heins thinks the iPhone is very 2008. Over the past month, the beleaguered smartphone maker’s chief executive has been a rah-rah cheerleader, even while consumers and analysts have yet to be convinced the company has turned a corner. Now, there is something to be said for aggressively optimistic CEOs, as long as their evidence is based in reality. With a mysterious million-phone purchase and plenty of corporate grandstanding, does Heins know something about Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) that everyone else doesn’t?

Research In Motion Ltd (BBRY)

Confessions of a BlackBerry bull
Before we get to the good stuff, you should know that I’ve been a BlackBerry fan throughout its reorganization. A year ago, I highlighted the tremendous value of the company’s patents, its licensing potential, and major support for the company from Canada’s greatest investor. Things didn’t play out exactly like I imagined, though.

The more than 100% growth in Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)’s stock price over the past year was not a deep-value crisis, sell-the-conference-table price correction. Despite some very opinionated haters, BlackBerry has slowly but surely convinced enough investors and analysts that not only was the company severely undervalued in the $6-$7 range, but that this was the rebirth of a disruptive tech giant. There remain plenty today who still believe BlackBerry is doomed, but the argument is more balanced and with the support of a tremendous rally. Without much hard evidence of a rebound, though, is it too early to break out the champagne?

Anonymous donor
Though the recent turnaround was really the fruit of a multiyear effort, things have heated up in just the past couple of weeks. Yet, in typical BlackBerry fashion, it hasn’t been the most conventional path.

Preempting its own upcoming earnings release by about two weeks, Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) issued a press release regarding the sale of 1 million handsets to a “buyer,” with shipments starting immediately. It’s common for a company to keep its buyers anonymous, but this announcement was particularly vague. For one thing, it did not mention which BB10 handset (there are two: the Z10 and the Q10) was just picked to be America’s Next Top Smartphone. And given the extremely large order, it is also a total mystery as to who bought all of them. The major U.S. carriers with which BlackBerry does business – AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), and Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) — all declined to comment on whether they had a hand in the transaction.

According to a Bloomberg report, the only carrier that did comment was T-Mobile, saying that it was excited to offer the device, but that it did not buy the 1 million phones. Corporations still use Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)s quite extensively, but very few would be distributing 1 million phones to employees. For reference, retail behemoth Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) employs 2.2 million people, but most of them would not be eligible for corporate phones.

Being the single largest purchase in the company’s history, the million-phone order is certainly encouraging for BlackBerry fans and investors, but it would be a little more comforting if we knew anything else about it.

iPhone sucks, BlackBerry is awesome
This week, Heins made quick headlines in his interview with the Australian Financial Review. In short, Heins believes Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)‘s iPhone has been eclipsed by a more aggressive, more innovative global market.

I happen to agree, on a casual-discussion basis, that the iPhone has slowed down in its rock-your-socks-off features and moron-proof user experience. But these are pretty bold words coming from the chief of a company whose phones went from global dominance to near irrelevance in a startlingly short period of time.

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