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BlackBerry maker RIM’s official line has been that it is not for sale, but this week, persistent rumors that it could get bought anyway got another fillip, in the form of a report that the handset maker has hired Goldman Sachs to advise it.
Predictably, the company’s stock rose on the news by some five percent when the report emerged yesterday, originally at the Fox Business site. RIM’s stock has declined in value by some 75 percent in the last year, as its share of worldwide sales of smartphones has declined. The latest figures from Gartner, covering Q3, 2011, note that RIM’s BlackBerry platform had an 11 percent share of smartphone sales, down from 15.4 percent of smartphone sales in the same quarter a year ago.
The Fox (NSDQ: NWS) report says that Goldman will be exploring “strategic options” for the company. If it is true, it could mean RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) merging with another company; or it could mean a sale of parts. One investor, Jaguar Financial, has advocated RIM selling its handset business, and its many valuable patents, and then focusing on services — although it is questionable whether those mobile services like email and BBM have enough steam in them to run on their own without the direct link to the devices designed for them. That would also be a massive step away from the “vertical” company model, used by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), that so many hold up as essential for success today.
Perhaps more significantly than the 4.4 percent decline in smartphone market share that RIM has faced is the fact that many investors, and a sizable-enough swathe of the general public, have largely seemed to lose confidence in the company after a disastrous year.
Problems included a less-than-spectacular entry into the tablet market with the PlayBook; legal hiccups surrounding the launch of the next OS for its phones BlackBerry 10; and a major international service outage that knocked out email, BlackBerry Messenger, Internet and other data services for thousands of its customers.
The role that BBM played in helping enable communications between rioters last year in London was not the company’s fault, but it didn’t exactly heap good PR on the company, either.
On top of all that, there are many lingering questions over whether the company’s longtime management structure, with co-CEOs, is really the best way to move ahead in the current market climate, faced as RIM is with competition from all sides: on platforms in the form of iOS, Android and potentially Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7; and in devices again from Apple, plus the many licensees making devices using those other operating systems. RIM is now apparently changing how it runs things, but perhaps not soon and drastically enough.
As for would-be buyers for RIM, names that have been floated include the usual suspects among large companies that might be on the hunt for a bolt-on acquisition that would give it instant scale in mobile: among them, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), presumably to beef up their mobile push and for the enterprise services part; and a joint bid from Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK), which would probably be more for the mobile enterprise customer base, and a complement to the handsets Nokia makes already.