BlackBerry Maker RIM's Strong Q4 Boosted by International Markets

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion turned in another strong quarter and fiscal year. Nearly half of its Q4 revenue came from outside North America, where BlackBerry handsets were strongly promoted, the reach of the recession varied and Google's Android is less of a threat.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion turned in another strong quarter on March 31, announcing revenue of $4.08 billion for the fourth quarter of its fiscal year 2010, which was a boost of 4 percent from the previous quarter.

RIM closed the fiscal year on Feb. 27 with revenue of $14.95 billion-up 35 percent from a year earlier.

"RIM has completed another outstanding fiscal year with record revenue, earnings and subscriber results," Jim Balsillie, RIM co-CEO, said in a statement in advance of a call with analysts. "Our company and partnerships continued to thrive within one of the most dynamic industries in the world. We managed to significantly expand our international market share while also maintaining our longstanding leadership in North America, where BlackBerry continues to be a top-selling smartphone brand."

Dynamic industry, indeed. RIM and Apple-which hold the No. 2 and 3 worldwide smartphone market share positions, respectively, with RIM having shipped 34.5 million BlackBerry handsets in 2009, followed by Apple with 25.1 million smartphones-have each faced competition from rapidly multiplying Android handsets.

A March 25 report from AdMob showed the Google mobile operating system to be the fastest growing in the United States, accounting for 24 percent of measured ad requests, up from 2 percent a year earlier. The most predominantly used Android handsets, said the report, were the HTC Dream, Hero and Magic, the Motorola Cliq, and the Motorola Droid, which shares shelf space with several BlackBerry handsets at Verizon Wireless.

Abroad, however, Android has been slower to draw crowds, and abroad is where RIM touted a good amount of its success. Balsillie pointed to BlackBerry successes in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, and Adele Ebbs, vice president of investor relations, said that 48 percent of revenue came from outside North America.

"Different countries are coming out of the recession at different rates of speed," Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK. "Even though we talk about the global recession, it's not equal everywhere, and certainly the way countries have approached it and are coming out from under it is very different."

King additionally pointed out that over the last 12 to 16 months, the smartphone market has "exploded," with competition heightened by the iPhone, Android handsets and also Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 OS, which King expects will begin showing up on a number of handsets.

"I think RIM has something unique going for it, though, and that's a very predictable user experience," King said.

While tech geeks love to talk about hot new products and innovation, when it comes down to your business, "reliability trumps hot new products," King said. "BlackBerry is a terrific brand. In a way, RIM really made the smartphone market-took that away from Palm, as it were-and paved the way for what people think of as the smartphone experience."

He added, "RIM is in a sweet spot. Mobile computing ... is the best place to be for both consumer and business IT right now, and the fact that you can get into a BlackBerry handset with service for less than $100 makes it a tool that's very accessible for businesses of almost every size."

The RIM team nonetheless appeared to want to downplay RIM's international successes-"North America's doing very, very well," Balsillie insisted-and expressed enthusiasm for its fiscal year 2011.

"If you saw what we were doing with the platform and you saw our road map, our carrier channel programs and the international engagement. I can't talk about what's not announced, but I love our road map for the year," said Balsillie. "All I can say is stay tuned. ... If you saw the road map, you'd be blown away."