Can BlackBerry Maker RIM Turn a Corner?

Blackberry Bold
Blackberry Bold

Blackberry maker Research In Motion shocked the market late on Thursday — reporting a much smaller-than-expected loss in the second quarter.

Written off as a has-been by technology analysts, RIM revealed that its handsets are still sought after by cost-conscious users in emerging markets.

RIMreported a net loss of $235 million in the second quarter, far surpassing analysts' expectations. The company posted a profit of $329 million in the same period a year earlier.

It's a welcome bit of good news for the struggling technology group. The smartphone pioneer once produced products so in vogue that arguably the world’s hippest chief executive, President Barack Obama, famously refused to part with his BlackBerry.

RIM has struggled to keep up with smartphone upstarts Apple and Samsung, ceding half its market share over the past year.

But analysts remain cautious about the company's future, waiting the launch of RIM's much-heralded launch of its next-generation BB10 product next year.

Mark Tinker, global portfolio manager at Axa Framlington, told CNBC said he thinks a change in strategy might slow its downward spiral.

“It is a business in significant trouble. I personally think it’s difficult to see how it gets out of it,” he told CNBC Thursday. “They have got value in the software which I think would be the thing to focus on,” he said. However, RIM’s technology hasn’t retained sufficient value to entice a takeover bid, he added.

Other analysts believe that RIM's patents and proprietary technology might stir some interest from competitors should the shares resume their downward spiral. One of the "bigger brands [might] be interested, be it Apple, Samsung, Google or HTC…although it will still be an expensive acquisition," Tech Radar's Ben Bolton told CNBC. "Samsung and Nokia have been touted for a while, as has Microsoft, but that’s based on unsubstantiated rumour."

RIM has suffered from the rising “bring your own device” phenomenon — the trend of financial firms allowing employees to use their own mobiles. Back in RIM’s glory days, employer-supplied BlackBerrys were standard issue.

“Once a corporate allows you to use your (Apple) iPhone or your Samsung or whatever, then there’s almost no place for them, they become like Nokia ,” he said.

And it might not be just RIM that finds the next few years challenging, as the sector will only become more competitive, Edison Investment’s Dan Ridsdale told CNBC.

“I think the device smartphone hardware space is going to get tougher and tougher for everybody, with value migrating increasingly to software, apps, and content,” he said. “RIM also looks subscale, so if there is a way for them to migrate successfully into a pure software model then they should probably explore that closely.”

Simona Jankowski at Goldman Sachs was one of the analysts surprised by RIM's recent results, particularly a surprise increase in its customer base revealed earlier in the weekk, and has updated her future projections for the company's customer base.

“We believe RIM continues to expand its platform in emerging markets, such as Southeast Asia, as a source of growth,” she said in a research note, although her 12-month price target for RIM shares remain at $9.

Goldman Sachs highlight the upside risks for the firm’s stock being its new BB10 software development and the possibility of a merger or acquisition.

Disclosures: Axa Framlington has company holdings in both Apple and Samsung.