I have just doubled my position in Research in Motion Ltd. stock after being a shareholder for more than 10 years.
Last week, I flew to Orlando to attend RIM’s BlackBerry World conference along with 6,000 others. I wrote an article here outlining the challenges I saw for RIM and how I planned to use this conference to gain insight into the company’s future. In three jam-packed days, I got more answers than I had hoped for.
In last week’s article, I focused on the need for RIM to become a stronger software company and to reflect this strength in developer tools and compelling applications. In my mind, software execution is more important than marketing, more important than hardware, and poised to be the crucial factor in moving the stock over the next 12 to 24 months.
RIM started off the conference with the announcement of the new BlackBerry Bold 9900, featuring a super-fast processor, powerful graphics, a touch screen and physical keyboard, along with the new BlackBerry 7 operating system. I was shocked by how light, thin and fast this device feels. Even though this is still a “legacy” Java operating system, it delivers a great user experience.
I realize there is short-term risk in buying stock because RIM absolutely has to get the new BlackBerry Bold and other devices out in time for back-to-school shopping late this summer. If they miss this window, the stock will get crushed. Judging from the demo unit I tested, though, I think the chances of a miss are small: It feels close to being market-ready.
The real story here is about three companies that RIM has acquired over the last year: QNX Systems, Torch Mobile and The Astonishing Tribe (TAT). They bring to the table a new operating system, a fantastic web browser and, in a first for RIM, slick user-interface design skills.
We’ve already seen the QNX operating system and Torch browser implemented in the recently launched BlackBerry PlayBook. The Swedish TAT team is now poised to solve one of RIM’s most visible problems – a lack of what RIM co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie refers to as “consumer delight.” Too many of RIM’s applications lack the good looks and suave effects of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems.
Let me tell you about the fall of 2008, when RIM held its first BlackBerry Developer Conference, which I attended. Apple had just released the iPhone 3G, and it was a weird time for RIM: Inside the conference presentations, the topic was BlackBerry, but in the hallway, everyone was talking about getting busy with iPhone development. There was concern over RIM’s future, and I would say that this concern continued during RIM developer conferences in 2009 and 2010.
Last week in Orlando I detected the return of BlackBerry enthusiasm among developers. QNX, Torch and TAT are the primary reason for this, helped by a partnership with Adobe. This technically savvy audience is buying into the reinvention of RIM.
Why is this not reflected in the stock price? The Street is too distracted by the near-term shortcomings of the new products, such as the PlayBook, and RIM’s recent profit warning, driven by a slip in BlackBerry 7 launch timing.
There is no denying that the PlayBook is unpolished. It is riddled with relatively minor bugs, and the BlackBerry Bridge app, which lets you get e-mail on the PlayBook, is far from a perfect experience out of the gate.
But the bones are solid. The way developers responded in Orlando is akin to watching an architect look at a beautiful piece of undeveloped coastline. And the new developer tools that are either available now, or will be within the next few months, are akin to the building materials that the architect uses to craft the house of your dreams.
Ask anyone where else RIM has fallen down and you’ll inevitably hear about poor marketing. I agree that the company has done a poor job communicating its capabilities and road map to investors and the media. But there is hope even on the marketing front.
In Orlando, RIM had attendees saying things like, “This was the best conference I’ve ever attended.” How did they achieve this? They put on a good show, but they put on an even better party. They rented out half of Universal Studios and provided great food, music and an open bar. They also gave every single guest a free BlackBerry PlayBook. This set of decisions was probably the best marketing move RIM has ever made.
Apart from convincing developers that their new QNX-based BlackBerry platform will deliver the goods, they’ve just invested in 6,000 ambassadors who are walking around telling their customers how much they love their PlayBook.
That’s an uptrend I want to be in front of.