Tom Sweeney

It's a coming of age tale….

RIM faces tough challenge to impress at annual symposium

Posted by sweens on April 29, 2010


The heat is on BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion as the company heads into its annual industry showcase of new products and services in what will perhaps be the most competitive year yet for smartphones.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company opens a three-day annual showcase on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., and it’s expected to update some devices, add new products and partnerships, and perhaps offer a few surprises.

There are rumours that RIM will announce an updated web browser, designed to compete with Apple’s popular iPhone, and perhaps even a new operating system.

“In the evolution of the company, this is going to be a very important year, for sure,” said Neeraj Monga, an analyst for Veritas Investment Research Corp.

“People are either going to give credit to the company that it can out-compete and out-innovate Apple, or they’re going to give up and say ‘BlackBerry had a great run, but it’s another one of those technology businesses that has matured and just cannot keep up with its innovative competitors.’”

Whether this year is literally such a sink-or-swim scenario for RIM is debatable, but it’s hard to deny the company is facing some of its fiercest competition yet.

In the past year, both the iPhone and Google’s Android smartphones have gained notable share in North America’s smartphone market, an area that was once clearly dominated by RIM’s BlackBerry products.

While RIM was able to add on its solid base within the business and government communities by adding consumer-friendly features to various BlackBerry models, RIM has been under plenty of scrutiny.

Critics say RIM has been slow to develop a new web browser for its devices that can compete with some of the more user-friendly designs on the market.

However, the highly competitive market is more complex than simply a new browser, as smartphone pioneer Palm learned last year when it unveiled a new browser design to critical raves.

Palm’s stock has fallen to multi-year lows, and recent reports have suggested that Palm has hired Goldman Sachs to help shop the company to potential buyers for about US$1.1 billion.

Despite the turbulence in smartphones, which usually include keys for text entry as well as phone calls, BlackBerrys remain the dominant smartphone in North America, and among the biggest sellers globally.

Broadpoint AmTech analyst Mark McKechnie said there are two ways to digest the company’s position in the market.

“They’re certainly showing tremendous growth outside of the U.S. as they bring smartphones to lower price points,” he said from Orlando, where he planned to attend the symposium.

“We need to see them bring the fight back here to the U.S. and regain their positioning at the high-end (or higher-priced devices).”

While most of RIM’s plans will not be unveiled until the conference gets underway, the company offered up its usual tease of product announcements ahead of the launch.

The highlights included a 3G version of its Pearl device and a BlackBerry Bold that works on CDMA network carriers.

Most of the most-anticipated announcements are expected when co-CEO Mike Lazaridis delivers a keynote address during the conference. The company’s stock price will likely show whether investors are impressed.

On Monday morning, RIM’s stock was down 80 cents to $69.78 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, off a 52-week high of 95 and low of $58.64.

In an interview ahead of the conference, co-CEO Jim Balsillie defended the company’s position on the market.

“Wind the clock back and I can give you 10 other companies that were put forward that were just overwhelmingly formidable for us to even consider competing against,” Balsillie said.

“There’s always somebody that somebody’s going to put out.”

By David Friend, The Canadian Press

http://www.obj.ca/Technology/2010-04-26/article-1039167/RIM-faces-tough-challenge-to-impress-at-annual-symposium/1

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