Merging with Microsoft tickles our fancy. Here's why: Since Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer joined Mike Lazaridis on stage at BlackBerry World last spring, Windows Phone has barely made a dent in market share. In fact, Windows Mobile continues its slide, suggesting Microsoft needs more than a partnership with Nokia to grab mobile market share. Microsoft could make the RIM BlackBerry its enterprise mobility brand, complementing Windows Phone for consumers. Of course, explaining the branding would be challenging, especially when BlackBerry's brand is far better known and respected than Microsoft Windows Phone.
Merge With Nokia
Of course, Microsoft doesn't make or sell hardware, so maybe the next best choice would be Nokia, still the world's leader for total phone sales. While Nokia's smartphone share has been drubbed by Google Android and Apple's iOS of late, it's still a dominant force, especially outside the U.S., where its mobile channel is unparalleled. We could see Nokia picking up RIM and providing a potent one-two punch with Microsoft versus Google and Apple.
OK, Amazon doesn't make phones, but it's selling them well enough through Amazon Wireless, its subsidiary for hawking smartphones for a penny a piece on contract. What better way to reach the other segment of mobile users it doesn't already serve with its new Kindle Fire tablet and Kindle e-readers than by selling an Amazon-branded phone made by RIM?
Some believe Chinese phone makers such as ZTE could be a suitor for RIM. The New York Times noted that while ZTE is strong in Asia, it is weak in the U.S. and wants to improve its fortunes there. Acquiring RIM could provide the same type of lifeline for ZTE that Microsoft hoped to get by getting in bed with Nokia.
Facebook as Dark Horse Suitor
The biggest dark horse acquirer would be Facebook, which some analysts believe needs to buy an operating system to have a commanding lead in mobile as it seeks to compete with Google for the future of Web advertising. Of course, it could cost Facebook $10 billion or more to buy RIM, making this deal a long shot.
RIM Could Partner
Of course, RIM might not need to throw itself into the arms of a willing suitor. Some analysts believe the company could simply partner with some of these companies to fortify its position versus Google and Apple. "Before QNX handsets launch, we think a partnership announcement is much more likely than a buyout due to the unwillingness of RIM's management and Board to sell beforehand and the desire of any acquirer to have visibility into the uptake of BB 10 handsets," said Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek in a research note last month.
For example, RIM might coax Samsung or other OEMs to license phones based on its QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS handsets.
Back to Amazon again, sans acquisition play. Misek believes RIM could pay to gain access to Amazon's music store, books and movies, which are making the Kindle Fire tablet a hit. Amazon could integrate the content with BB 10 to grab some content punch it's missing. Such a deal could be announced at Mobile World Congress in February.