Good News, Bad News for Research In Motion Ltd (BBRY)

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With so much riding on its new operating systems and phone line, Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) or BlackBerry won’t get much wiggle room from investors, nor should it expect any. We all knew when BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the arrival of its BB10 OS in late January, along with a couple of highly anticipated new phones, that the rollout needed to go smoothly. Monday’s news that a major customer is swapping its employees’ BlackBerry smartphones for iPhones wasn’t what Heins had in mind.

Research in Motion Ltd. (BBRY)The bad news
In the past year alone, BlackBerry’s market share has declined at an alarming rate — and it’s not alone. Even Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)‘s iOS experienced a drop in market share in Q4, slipping from 23.6%, to 20.9%, compared to 2011’s fourth quarter. The primary beneficiary of BlackBerry’s and Apple’s decline in the OS market? Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and its Android OS.

Nearly twice the number of android OS smartphones were sold in 2012’s Q4 compared to the prior year, raising Google’s piece of the global OS pie to nearly 70%. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and its new Windows 8 OS is also benefiting from BlackBerry’s and Apple’s decline in market share. Microsoft’s OS now runs 3% of the world’s smartphones as of the last quarter, up from a paltry 1.8% in 2011.

As recently as Q4 of 2011 , BlackBerry owned nearly 9% of the global smartphone market, as measured by operating systems. By the fourth quarter of 2012, BlackBerry’s piece of the pie shrunk to just 3.5%, and Heins and team are relying on its new BB10 to turn things around. Getting BlackBerry back into the smartphone mix is a big challenge in and of itself, so you can bet investors will react negatively to any bad news, as they did on Monday.

The reason for BlackBerry’s 5% drop in stock price earlier this week was the announcement that one of its customers, The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE:HD), has opted to furnish 10,000 of its executives and corporate folk with Apple’s iPhone, in lieu of BlackBerry devices.

Losing a deal for 10,000 phones won’t end BlackBerry’s comeback bid; it sold nearly 7 million smartphones last quarter, and expectations are running high for its Z10 and (eventually) Q10 units this year. As for Apple, it sold about 47.8 million iPhones in its most recent quarter, so another 10,000 isn’t exactly corporate celebration material. But remember, Heins is walking a fine line here, and perception will continue to become reality for BlackBerry investors, at least for the foreseeable future.

Home Depot’s shift to iPhones also reinforces the fear that more companies are blurring the lines between business and personal mobile computing. BlackBerry has long been the choice of commercial and government customers, but Home Depot’s decision makes it pretty clear that the business world once owned by BlackBerry is becoming wide open.

Early release of Z10? Sort of…
As discussed in an article a week ago, Heins grudgingly admitted that the release of BlackBerry’s Q10 smartphone model — the one with the keyboard — would be delayed until late May or early June for U.S. customers, to give mobile carriers time to test the devices. BlackBerry’s Z10 smartphone, which has started off well in Canada and the U.K. according to Heins, should be released domestically in mid-March. Like most, I expected the Z10 to go on sale in the U.S. shortly after BlackBerry’s Jan. 30 BB10 party, but it wasn’t to be. Why the delays?

In the U.S., wireless companies pick up the majority of the cost, by way of subsidies, so you can bet they want to make certain the devices are going to work. But what if a carrier offered the new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone domestically, without a subsidy?

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