RIM Shrouded by Uncertainty Ahead of BlackBerry World

Research In Motion staggers into its BlackBerry World developer conference with negative sentiment around its PlayBook tablet and its new earnings forecast shortfall.

There's no shortage of negative sentiment heading into Research In Motion's BlackBerry World conference, which officially kicks off in Orlando, Fla., May 3.

Fortunately for the challenged BlackBerry maker, the show is for developers and not investors or financial analysts, who would undoubtedly roast leadership for just its performance in the last two weeks alone.

First, the long-anticipated and much-hyped BlackBerry PlayBook launched April 19 and was largely panned by critics who feel the latest Apple iPad challenger was missing core pieces.

Analysts and reviewers were shocked into mourning by a BlackBerry-branded device that didn't natively support email, the brand's hallmark, though Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek said it may have sold 45,000 units on launch day.

Second, RIM on April 28 cut its sales and profit forecasts for the first quarter. The company pared per-share earnings from $1.47 to $1.55 to $1.30 to $1.37 for the first quarter and lowered Q1 guidance below its previously stated $5.2 billion to $5.6 billion range.

The company also said BlackBerry smartphone shipments will likely be toward the lower end of the 13.5 million to 14.5 million unit guidance that it forecast in March.

During a conference call with analysts April 28, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie attributed the cuts to the aging of RIM's high-end BlackBerry devices, such as the Bold and Storm.

A glance at smartphone calculations from comScore, Nielsen and NPD Group make it clear the speedy Android smartphone cycle and the Verizon Wireless iPhone 4 dinged RIM's smartphone sales in the last several months. NPD said RIM's mobile phone share dropped 5 points to 14 percent in Q1.

Worse, new smartphones based on BlackBerry OS 6.1 are not expected until second quarter of 2012. Moreover, smartphones based on RIM's newfangled QNX operating system, which powers the PlayBook, are not expected to be hit the market until early to mid-2012.

"This has left a void in its portfolio and led to substantial weakness in North America, particularly in the U.S. and Latin America," Susquehanna Research analyst Jeffrey Fidacaro said in a research note April 29.

Analysts had a number of takes about these developments, few of them positive. Fidacaro lowered his RIM FY12/FY13 revenue range from $23.7 billion to $25.7 billion to $22.5 billion to $23.7 billion and EPS from $6.49 to $6.80 to $6.07 to $6.21.