Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may be interested in purchasing BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, according to online reports, but substantial roadblocks may exist to such a deal.
According to a Feb. 8 post on the All Things Digital blog, Ballmer has "expressed interest in buying RIM many times (while also dismissing any interest in Palm)." That bit of information apparently came from unnamed sources within Microsoft, and the post has led to online surmising by others that Microsoft's planned Feb. 15 news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, could be a RIM acquisition announcement.
However, at least one analyst sees a substantial negative side to a potential takeover.
"While there is often speculation about MSFT's interest in purchasing RIMM, we think the likelihood is slim and that MSFT's near-term focus is on gathering support for its upcoming release of the Windows 7 mobile platform," Mark McKechnie, an analyst with Broadpoint AmTech, wrote in a Feb. 11 research note.
Arguments for a possible acquisition, in McKechnie's opinion, include RIM's "dominant position in the enterprise, which MSFT could [make use of] to [improve] its Exchange business and add up to [about] $5 billion in recurring revenue should it reach 100 million subscribers." Such an acquisition would strengthen Microsoft's ability to compete for mobile customers against Google and Apple.
However, McKechnie added, "We think RIMM would try and block a deal and that an acquisition would likely have to be hostile for it to occur." In addition, "RIMM's OS could be difficult to port over to a full Windows environment, thus proving a weaker 'end game' for Microsoft." A deal with RIM could also eclipse any previous Microsoft acquisition in terms of cost, which could prove prohibitive.
Both RIM and Microsoft saw their market share in the mobile arena decline by 1 point between September and December 2009, according to statistics watcher ComScore, leaving RIM with a 41.6 percent share and Microsoft with 18 percent. Meanwhile, both Google and Apple enjoyed incremental gains.
For weeks, the news has been out that Microsoft plans a major smartphone-related rollout at the Mobile World Congress. The general consensus seems to be that the company will debut either the next version of its mobile operating system, Mobile 7, or else a radically revamped version of Mobile 6.5, with was released in October 2009.
The Mobile 6.5 update faced fierce competition from Google, Apple and RIM. Part of Microsoft's strategy involved Windows Marketplace for Mobile, a competitor to Apple's App Store where third-party developers could post mobile applications for Windows phones. Windows Marketplace launched in October with 246 applications in its online storefront, a number that has since increased to 718 for U.S.-based Mobile 6.x smartphones; by contrast, Apple's App Store expanded to more than 100,000 apps in 2009.
Meanwhile, RIM has been attempting to hold on to its share of the enterprise and consumer markets by introducing devices such as the BlackBerry Bold 9700, a sleeker version of the BlackBerry Bold 9000. The company has also been touting BlackBerry OS 5.0, which it says offers a faster browser experience and improved typing accuracy and selection.