How Many BlackBerry 10s Must RIM Sell?
That's a huge gamble for the Canadian company as it tries to dig out of an enormous hole. The company reported a first-quarter operating loss of $518 million and said it plans to cut 5,000 more jobs before the end of the year. And, in the interim to its delayed BB10 launch, it only has its poorly received BB7 line to fill the gap. (See RIM CEO Denies BlackBerry Death Spiral, RIM Posts $518M Q1 Loss, More Job Cuts at RIM and RIM to Sell the BlackBerry Farm?)
CEO Thorston Heins said RIM will launch a multi-touch device first, followed by a keyboard option. However, the question for the handset maker is not what kind of devices it needs, but how many it has to sell to stay in the smartphone picture.
Analysts aren't optimistic.
"Honestly, I am just hoping that the company will survive to make it to the BB10 launch," says Pyramid Research analyst Emily Smith.
Given its cash position -- RIM has $2 billion in the bank -- independent Canadian analyst Carmi Levy is more optimistic for his hometown company, but he says it's going to be a bleak couple of quarters, both for the company and its investors.
RIM's not committing to launch projections for BB10, but the company is tasked with keeping its 78 million existing BlackBerry customers loyal, while also attracting new ones. Much of that job falls to RIM's recently appointed CMO Frank Boulben. (See RIM's New Marketing Man Is a LightSquared Vet.)
"We'll see a fairly aggressive move by RIM to raise the volume around BlackBerry 10 and market the heck out of it," Levi says. "By the time the product launches early next year, the market should have a clear idea of what BB10 is."
But will they care? Heins has maintained that the BB10 delay won't hurt the company, even saying that wireless operators welcome the delay because they'll have their Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks in their final stages by the first quarter. But, as Smith points out, the first quarter is seasonably the weakest, and it will arrive well after the next iPhone and Windows Phone 8 devices swarm the market. Since BB10 will be on high-end smartphones for developed markets, not for emerging markets where RIM's subscriber base is actually growing, that's a tough crowd to face. (See RIM CEO 'Not Satisfied' but Confident in BB10.)
Looking at just the U.S., Smith says that RIM needs to sell at least 1 million BB10 devices in the first quarter, but even that's optimistic given the competition here. Worldwide, Levi adds, the initial launch will have to be in the double-digit millions. RIM can't just sell a couple million and call it a day.
Canaccord Genuity analyst Mike Walkley's projections and pessimism for RIM were higher still. To get back in the game, he says RIM would have to sell more than 10 million BB10 devices globally per quarter, or more than 40 million annually.
"Given the unlikelihood the general market will support BB10 as a fourth wireless ecosystem, we believe even if the devices are competitive, they will fail to sell that many devices per quarter," he writes in an email to LR Mobile. "Therefore, we maintain our belief RIM is likely to have to sell the assets of the company longer-term to maximize shareholder value from here."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile