Both of these have depressed sales for RIM’s devices, and neither is going away. The first of these phenomena is unstoppable, and we expect a significant increase in employee-led rather than IT department-led smartphone buying. Our recent surveys suggest that even when employees aren’t choosing the device, they expect the replacement for their current BlackBerry to be an iPhone or an Android device. The second trend could be stopped in theory, but RIM does not seem to be focusing on this approach in BB10.
As part of our research for a newly published profile on RIM’s smart device strategy, it became clear to us that RIM’s intention for BlackBerry 10 is to be “the best BlackBerry for BlackBerry users” rather than something that will necessarily win converts from other platforms. The points of differentiation RIM has focused on in teasers for the new platform confirm this – better multitasking, productivity, email, contacts and calendar applications and so on, rather than a better gaming, content consumption or social networking experience.
We can’t fault RIM for wanting to hold onto its 80 million existing subscribers. While exact figures aren’t available, our analysis suggests that RIM has always sold about half its devices to new customers and half to existing customers upgrading to a better phone. For much of the last two years, the portion bought by upgrading customers has significantly outweighed the portion bought by converts, and this makes it all the more important for RIM to retain existing subscribers.
We believe that much of the installed base in mature markets has delayed upgrading while BlackBerry 10 is pending, something that has unfortunately dragged on for far too long, thus lengthening the upgrade cycle and depressing results in the interim. If BB10 delivers, it should produce a nice fillip in RIM’s results - in the first two quarters of 2013 at least - as this pent up demand finally meets supply.
Decline likely in long term
Despite the brief bump RIM will see from the launch of BB10, we expect its decline to continue longer term. At its peak, RIM shipped between 12 million and 15 million devices per quarter, but there is no way it can hit this number on a sustainable basis once the BB10 launch filters through. Though the new platform should have significant appeal to existing users, we don’t expect it to win significant numbers of converts from other platforms. There is little in the new platform that suggests it will have the compelling apps, content stores, or the broader ecosystem that consumers have come to expect in a competitive smartphone platform.