Can Research In Motion Ltd (BBRY) Become the Next Twitter?

Research in Motion Ltd. (BBRY)Right now, just about everything is on the table for Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY), as the company is still reeling from its recent disappointing earnings release last month. Investors were none too happy about the 2.7 million BlackBerry 10 units that the company shipped, and they expressed their discontent at Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)’s subsequent annual meeting.

Shares have now dipped back into single-digit territory and are now roughly half of what they were when BlackBerry tapped 52-week highs in January over BB10 optimism. That hasn’t discouraged one analyst. ACI Research analyst Ed Zabitsky has just started coverage on Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) with a “strong buy” rating alongside a whopping $20 price target — more than double current prices.

Who’s Zabitsky?
Zabitsky was the first real Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) bear at a time when the Street was nearly unanimous in its bullishness. His “sell” rating on the Mac maker dates back to as early as 2009. Over the years, he’s maintained his stance, while his bearish thesis has evolved. He also subsequently moved his rating to a more aggressive “sell short.”

It’s true that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has fallen from grace over the past year, although shares never reached his $270 price target. You might argue that Zabitsky’s call was right to an extent, except that the actual rationale underlying his thesis was dead wrong. He believed that the rise of HTML5 apps would ruin Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s proprietary empire in favor of open Web apps. This hasn’t happened. The native iOS and Android app ecosystems are as strong as ever.

Instead, Apple’s fall has more to do with saturation in the high-end smartphone market combined with fears of margin contraction and escalating hardware competition. Zabitsky may have been right that Apple was due for a pullback, but he was totally wrong on why.

Forget BlackBerry 10
Interestingly enough, the bullishness isn’t predicated on the strength of BlackBerry 10 as a platform, nor does Zabitsky expect unit sales to rise. On the contrary, the analyst believes that Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) will inevitably abandon hardware and transition to becoming a cross-platform web services player instead.

More specifically, Zabitsky is particularly bullish on the prospect of BlackBerry Messenger becoming cross platform, which is scheduled to arrive this summer on iOS and Android. Opening up BBM to a wider audience is “long overdue,” in Zabitsky’s view. He believes that Microsoft is fumbling with its Skype acquisition, since the software giant hasn’t expanded carrier relationships, which presents an opportunity for BBM.

BBM could effectively become the next Skype, Zabitsky believes, delivering voice, video, and text communications tools.

It’s all about BBM
Somehow, a free service is supposed to be at the heart of Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)’s turnaround, which will double its value. BBM competes directly with rival messaging services such as Apple’s iMessage and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)‘s Hangouts, both of which are free. Both companies also have voice calling alternatives. BlackBerry has historically monetized BBM in part by bundling it with its Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) Internet Service, or BIS, data plans.

BBM Channels beta. Source: BlackBerry.