Time to start the RIM death watch?

Research in Motion

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Research in Motion (RIM) released its fiscal 2012 fourth quarter results. They were ugly, with a $125 million loss and revenue down 19 percent from the previous quarter. The sale of 500,000 playbooks makes Android tablet sales in a market virtually owned by Apple look robust in comparison. And, critically, RIM sold 21 percent fewer smartphones than in the third quarter. That means the rebound of unit sales in Q3 (which included holiday sales to retailers) may have been an aberration.

RIM is trying to right itself. There's the new CEO, Thorsten Heins. Former co-CEO Jim Balsillie resigned -- an inconceivable thought even a few months ago. Chief technology officer David Yacht is leaving, as well. There are plans to get smartphones with the new BlackBerry operating system to third-party developers in May, a critical step to have products out by later in the year. But there is just too much that has gone wrong and left unattended to fix. Chance are good that within a year or two, the company that helped pioneer the modern smartphone will cease to exist.

BlackBerry maker bails from consumer markets

Heins hinted at this, saying RIM would consider selling itself. While that's a theoretical possibility for any publicly-held company -- the need to entertain all possibilities to maximize shareholder value -- it may become the only true option available.

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Lately, the press has pointed to a statistic claiming that Apple sold more iPhones in Canada, RIM's home, than the beleaguered company sold BlackBerrys. That's actually uninteresting, given the relative movement of the two products. It might be that Apple was doing so before but that no one bothered to look.

The real problem becomes clear as Heins wants to return RIM to its corporate roots. The company wants to refocus its business on big companies and admit that it has lost the consumer race. Unfortunately, that won't work, either. If you talk to many IT professionals, you hear that the so-called consumerization of IT -- employees using consumer smartphones and tablets to get work done -- is a force that will not be denied. These are the people that would have to sign off on enforcing a BlackBerry standard, and they can't do it. Why? Because employees want iPhones and Android handsets and iPads. Corporate executives are the ones who started the trend. So, RIM doesn't have the support it needs to keep large corporate business as a ground it can dominate.

RIM will have to sell itself off, probably for the value of the network operating centers and the ongoing subscription business is has from corporate software. No one wants or perceives the need for the company's hardware or operating system -- which is the reason it got into trouble in the first place.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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