Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)’s major launch of its radically improved operating system, Blackberry 10, is a pivotal moment for the company, formerly known as Research in Motion. The market has been anticipating this announcement, and since the start of the year share prices have taken a bumpy trip as they have risen over 30%. Is there still room for new investors? Compared to just a few years ago, when enterprise-provided Blackberries dominated the mobile market and share prices were several times their present value, it seems like there could be a plenty of room. And, despite the company’s well-known recent problems with profitability, it still is financially healthy, with no long-term debt.
When CEO Thorsten Heins took the reins a year ago, he said he wanted to pay more attention to the consumer market. So, in addition to rolling out their new operating system, they’re also releasing two new handsets. Furthermore, Blackberry has been aggressively courting developers, wisely recognizing that apps from private developers play an important role in whether or not consumers choose their product. CNET recently described this push: close to 10,000 developers have been involved in programming jam sessions across more than 40 countries. The company has nurtured developers by distributing thousands of playbooks and the new Z10 and Q10 phones to developers. In addition, they have committed to pay successful developers (who have earned at least $1,000) a minimum of $10,000 per year. While companies are increasingly recognizing how important individual contributors are to their company’s success, Blackberry’s efforts are noteworthy and should pay off handsomely.
In addition to the tens of thousands of apps that have been developed for the release, Blackberry has also announced partnerships for content from big names like Walt Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. All of this will be marketed with a Super Bowl commercial and a social media blitz. Nonetheless, there is still hefty competition from both Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Android phones and iPhones from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), who each are expected to exceed a million apps sometime in 2013.
Will this push towards the consumer market pay off? The marketplace is fickle. Android phones currently dominate the market with a share well over 60%. iPhones follow with close to 20% of market share. However, consumers (and investors) have been disappointed by the iPhone 5 from Apple, and this creates room for competition. Blackberry’s 80 million subscribers represent only a few percentage points of the global market. There certainly is an opportunity for them to significantly increase their revenue from mobile devices if only a small fraction of iOS and Android consumers make the switch to the new products. However, to capture these consumers Blackberry will need to demonstrate that their product compares favorably to not only Androids and iPhones, but also to the up-and-coming Windows phone from Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). Preliminary reports from the UK, where the new phones have been available since Jan. 31, and from Canada, where the phones became available Feb. 5, have been encouraging. However, first adapter numbers do not necessarily point towards shifts in market share. Investors should watch, over the coming weeks, how consumers respond to these new devices.