Research In Motion underwent a sizable corporate shakeup Jan. 22, with longtime co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepping aside in favor of little-known insider Thorsten Heins. But whatever the immediate impact of that changeover, RIM's longer-term health still hinges on its upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform.
In one of his first public appearances as CEO of RIM-a corporate video posted to YouTube-Heins conceded that RIM needs to tighten its operations somewhat to better compete against the likes of Apple's iOS and Google Android. "I think we need to get a bit more discipline in our own processes," he said. "I want to spend more time on prototyping, on exploring, on research and development."
But in many ways, RIM's die was already rolled some time ago, when it opted to pursue BlackBerry 10 as the best way to reverse its eroding market share. Devices running the QNX-based operating system will appear at an as-yet-unannounced point in late 2012. Until then, RIM is relying on a product line running BlackBerry OS 7 to retain customers; the upside, of course, is that IT administrators and others who manage BlackBerry devices for businesses have several months before RIM wholeheartedly embarks on major changes.
Despite the CEO switchover, some analysts remain pessimistic about RIM's near-term chances. "With competing OEMs introducing high-end smartphone products on more established software ecosystems and low-cost Android products pressuring RIM's international sales," T. Michael Walkley, a Canaccord Genuity analyst, wrote in a coauthored Jan. 22 research note, "we believe sales and earnings will decline."
He also seemed down on BlackBerry 10's ability to reverse that slide: "While the change in management might reinvigorate the employee base, improve execution, or even increase interest from potential acquirers ... we maintain our belief the new BB 10 OS will not stem ongoing market share losses to Android and iOS."
Other analysts appear more upbeat. "By making a break and bringing in new blood RIM is able to start a new chapter," Peter Misek, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., wrote in a Jan. 23 research note. "We believe Thorsten Heins, a seasoned Siemens executive, is the smoothest near-term replacement. While it does not necessarily change anything overnight, it does create a fresh chapter and open doors and possibilities."
That being said, Misek added, "until BB10 handsets launch, we believe RIM will continue to be challenged and could even see a loss." If RIM decides to start licensing its operating system, that could also negatively impact the company's hardware side.
In the meantime, it seems Heins' immediate goal is to keep RIM's ship aimed straight toward BlackBerry 10.