RIM's revival given a shot against Apple, Android smartphones with BB10 launch

Research In Motion’s rebound in the smartphone market has been given a small chance of success against Apple and Android devices after another look at expectations for its new operating system.

Some analysts have increased their share target prices and removed sell orders, helped by a firm launch date of Jan. 30 for the BlackBerry 10 operating system and the belief that hardcore customers will upgrade to the new smartphones.

“This is a game of odds,” Troy Crandall of MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier said Monday.

“That’s why it’s very difficult to figure out what RIM’s going to be worth because we can’t say with any kind of confidence whether this is going to be successful, but history tells us it probably won’t,” he said.

Crandall has raised his target price to $10 from $7 for RIM (TSX:RIM) and upgraded the shares for the Waterloo, Ont., company to hold.

However, it’s very difficult to bounce back when a company has lost so much market share, he added.

RIM has under 10 per cent of market share in the tech-savvy North American market. Its new operating system, expected to better browse the web and be app friendly, is considered a make-or-break product for RIM.

Crandall also noted when there were so many sell orders on RIM, there was nowhere lower to go, adding he raised his price on RIM similar to a valuation on struggling handset maker Nokia.

CIBC raised its target price Monday on RIM shares to US$17, up from US$8 a share, based on the strength of RIM’s customer base with older BlackBerrys.

The CIBC analysis notes RIM has about 80 million smartphone subscribers and some of them will decide to upgrade when the BlackBerry 10 technology becomes available.

“With a January 30 BB10 launch date locked in, along with carrier and developer feedback now more clear, an upgrade of the existing subscriber base will be the most likely outcome,” analyst Todd Coupland said in a research note.

“Our rating change is based on RIM’s existing subscribers wanting to upgrade to BB10,” Coupland said.

CIBC also put a “sector outperform” rating on RIM shares from “sector underperform” which was based on skepticism about its new generation of products.

Last week, RIM shares surged $2.38 or 25.8 per cent to $11.61, with gains concentrated on Thursday. Shares closed up 29 cents, or 2.5 per cent, on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday.

CIBC’s revised price target is $2 above a price target of US$15 a share issued last week from National Bank Financial.

But Edward Jones technology analyst Bill Kreher said he’s keeping his sell order on RIM shares.

“I certainly can appreciate that the announcement of a launch date has reduced uncertainty and provided renewed hope, but I still think longer term it will be difficult for RIM to recover lost market share from the past,” he said from St. Louis, Mo.

PC magazine analyst Sascha Segan said RIM could have potential growth with “mad messengers,” teens and 20-somethings who want to stay constantly connected with their friends.

“That is BlackBerry’s other potential growth market,” said Segan, lead mobile device analyst with New York-based PC magazine.

But it depends whether the social games they are playing will be available on the new BlackBerry 10 platform, he said.

Segan said the enterprise market that includes departments at companies, governments and corporations — a traditional strength for RIM — is up for grabs with Microsoft making a play with the Windows Phone and Apple making inroads.

“Business people are a big part of the equation here,” he said, adding expectations are “spectacularly” low for BlackBerry 10.

“RIM has really lowered expectations to the point where even the company’s survival would be a pleasant surprise. If BlackBerry 10 actually appears on its proposed launch date, that actually exceeds expectations.”

Analyst Peter Misek of New York-based Jeffries & Company has given the new operating system only a 20 per cent to 30 per cent probability of success. He removed his sell order on the stock and upgraded it to hold.