RIM had a rough 2011…very rough. Its rapid decline in relevance has made it a popular target for acquisition rumors, but so far the main question seems to be “who would want it, and what would they use it for?”
RIM does have value, just not for its BlackBerry OS or BlackBerry mobile devices. At this point, those would be more of a burden than a benefit. Whether the company is Microsoft, or Nokia, or Samsung, or some other acquisition rumor du jour, the real value of RIM is its customer base and patent portfolio.
With each passing week, BlackBerry devices themselves are losing ground to more innovative, capable devices like the Apple iPhone, Windows Phone devices, and the army of Android smartphones. But, BlackBerry still has a vast customer base that is loyal to the platform — even if that loyalty is under duress.
The entrenched support for BlackBerry is as much about the existing investment in the BlackBerry infrastructure, and maintaining the status quo as it is about the OS or devices themselves. It’s like stubbornly clinging to VHS video tapes — not because they’re better, or because you have something against the DVD or Blu-Ray technology it is being replaced by — simply because you already have a library of VHS video tapes you don’t want to abandon or replace.
RIM has a very large customer base of companies, and government agencies that fit this description. These organizations might not be committed to the BlackBerry platform so much as they’re reluctant to abandon their investment in the BlackBerry infrastructure. If a company can buy RIM, and give those customers a smooth path to transition to a better mobile platform, it will strike gold.
Of course, that is much easier said than done. Trying to integrate some other mobile platform in a way that might let customers continue to use their existing BlackBerry infrastructure may not even be technically feasible. But, even if it can’t be merged, the purchasing company can still provide discounts and incentives for those existing customers to transition to a new platform by attrition as BlackBerry licensing and support expire.
Aside from the treasure of the RIM customer database, the other jackpot that would come with acquiring RIM is its portfolio of technology patents. I don’t know offhand what concepts of technologies RIM holds patents for, but in this era of the patent arms war and the strategy of mutually-assured destruction through patent litigation, any patent portfolio is a good patent portfolio.
The BlackBerry OS, and BlackBerry devices would be a proverbial albatross around the neck of he purchasing company – like webOS turned out to be for HP. If Microsoft, or Samsung, or any other company chooses to purchase RIM, it should do it for what the company has rather than for what the company is.
Kill BlackBerry to eliminate that burden, and focus on the customers and patent portfolio.