RIM's Q3 Earnings Ahead of BlackBerry 10 Launch Better than Expected

RIM slogged through its last full quarter without BlackBerry 10, losing 1 million subscribers but less money than Wall Street expected.

Research In Motion announced the results of its fiscal 2013 third quarter, the last quarter it needed to slog through before the Jan. 30 launch of its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform.

RIM is counting on the new mobile platform and the smartphones that will launch with it to save the company and bring back users who have abandoned their BlackBerrys for iPhones and Android devices.

Still, the quarter wasn't as cringe-worthy as Wall Street was braced for.

RIM recorded revenue of $2.7 billion—down 5 percent from the quarter before and 47 percent from a year ago, suggesting the worst of the bleeding has been staunched. It sold 255,000 PlayBooks, up from 130,000 last quarter, and 6.9 million BlackBerry smartphones. This was down from the 7.4 million smartphones sold last quarter and from the 14.1 million sold a year ago, but it was still a considerable achievement, given that RIM's current handsets won't be able to upgrade to the BlackBerry 10 platform.

After tax-related adjustments, RIM reported a loss of 22 cents a share—far better than the 35 cents investors expected.

Gartner VP Distinguished Analyst Ken Dulaney called the quarter "irrelevant," though he told eWEEK that if he focused on anything it was the subscribers RIM lost.

RIM's base fell to approximately 79 million, from the 80 million RIM celebrated last quarter. These subscribers, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said during the Dec. 20 earnings call, were mostly from North America. Subscriber figures were stable or grew in other parts of the world. But North American subscribers are the ones RIM needs most.

RIM's future success, said Dulaney, is "predicated on whether they can get users [in developed markets] excited. RIM's in fourth place, and that's a tough place to be."

Heins preferred to focus on RIM's cash flow, which was $950 million, as well as what a "dynamic time" it currently is at RIM.

"Excitement for BlackBerry 10 is high throughout the entire organization," Heins said during the call. "I'd describe the excitement as employees are wearing a badge of honor right now. ... It's a great time to be with BlackBerry."

On Dec. 17 RIM launched an invitation-only beta program, which enlisted 120 enterprises to preview BlackBerry 10. That figure, said Heins, is now at more than 150.

Heins and his executive team recently returned from an extensive, worldwide carrier roadshow, where he said enthusiasm for BlackBerry 10 is also high.

"The carriers are placing pricing orders with us way ahead [of launch] and to us that's a very good sign," Heins said with a little laugh. He added that the carriers are eager to be early to market with the devices. (Gartner's Dulaney likened the carriers to department stores, saying they need to have an assortment of goods on the shelves.)

Rumors have persisted that the ailing RIM may soon be sold off in pieces, or bought outright, and Heins said RIM continues to "meet with potential partners about how we might extend each others' strengths."

He also said that he'd like to eventually generate service revenue from BlackBerry Messenger, and that RIM plans to move to a new payment structure. When asked for clarity on the details—such as whether fees would stay the same for BlackBerry 7 users who don’t upgrade or whether fees would be paid by the user rather than the carrier?—listeners were told that RIM "isn't providing details on [the new structure] yet."

Heins concluded his statements by saying that RIM has "an unbelievable fan base that's excited ... and RIM knows they demand and respond to innovation. We believe BlackBerry 10 will deliver on that.

Will BlackBerry 10, in fact, save the day?

After Jan. 30, said Gartner's Dulaney, "The next six months will determine that."