On Thursday, RIM announced its latest bad news: Last quarter’s sales and losses were worse than expected, and its new BlackBerry 10 platform won’t be ready until next year. (Too late.) RIM shares fell some 14% in after-hours trading; they’re down about 95% since mid-2008. And the company will now have to cut some 5,000 jobs, which is sad to hear.
What happened? Nothing recently. Rather, RIM’s fate started tumbling five years ago Friday: June 29, 2007, the day Apple first started selling the iPhone.
It’s hard to overstate just how much Apple’s entry into the phone market changed things. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but it took mobile devices to a new level with the iPhone’s all-screen layout, revolutionary software, touch-based interface and its near-perfect integration.
RIM and its contemporaries saw “smartphones” mostly as phones, with some email and basic web stuff crammed in. But Apple saw the iPhone as a tiny portable computer, capable of running the same powerful operating system and Web browser that a laptop could. So the day the iPhone came out, everyone else was immediately playing catch-up.
The good news is that RIM still has almost 80 million subscribers, is still selling some phones, still has some big customers (governments, huge companies, etc.), and still has some useful technology for back-end services. In theory, that should be worth something to someone – Microsoft, Cisco, Apple, Oracle, Salesforce.com, Facebook, Huawei, Amazon, etc. The bad news is that the price tag for RIM has been shrinking rapidly. As its technology continues to decay, why pay more than you need to?
When I first argued in early 2009 that Microsoft should buy RIM and make its big mobile bet, I wrote that it would have probably cost $35 billion to get a deal done. Today, RIM is worth less than $5 billion; it shouldn’t take much more than that to bid. (Meanwhile, Microsoft has since realized that it needs to go into the hardware business to make money in mobile.) But what’s there? The cost of cleaning up the mess will be high, and the value of what’s left is low. Three years ago, there might have been a chance to salvage something useful. Today, the scraps are scraps.