Rating: Google, Facebook, Microsoft all potential buyers
The British Sunday Times newspaper has published rumours that Research in Motion (RIM) may well be considering splitting itself into two separate parts. It’s a highly believable plan considering another former leading handset vendor, Motorola, did actually divide itself into two divisions. In this case, according to the newspaper, RIM would hive of the handset manufacturing part from its secure network operations service. The Sunday Times didn’t name its sources but there’s a very strong hint that such a plan could have been dreamed up by JP Morgan and Capital Markets, the two investment banks called in by new RIM CEO, Thorsten Heins. Possible buyers mentioned include Facebook, Google and even Microsoft.It is tempting to think that RIM wouldn’t get a good price for a struggling handset manufacturer which is losing market share rapidly to Android based handsets and Apple’s iPhones.
However, look at its assets. One of them is that the division would have a strong portfolio of cellular related patents.
As any industry guru can tell you, the first requirement to break into handset manufacturing is a decent wedge of patents.
Which is where Facebook might come in. There have been definite rumours that the leading social network is thinking of producing its own handset.
Negotiations for the right to use patents with the other leading handset manufacturers would be easier if you already have something to trade against.
Google’s already got a handset division in the shape of Motorola – which is one reason why arch rival Facebook is said to be keen to offer its own handsets.
Microsoft could be interested in the handset division because it has a strong ally in Nokia but doesn’t actually own it – yet.
Former Microsoft man, Stephen Elop, is doing his best to depress the price of Nokia so that Microsoft could easily acquire it, of course.
Another point about RIM is that it comes with a ready-made global distribution operation for handsets. But it also comes with a pretty reasonable base of app developers, too.
Both of those assets would appeal to Microsoft as it struggles to establish its Windows Phone 7.5 (W7 Mango) mobile OS as a serious contender. Better still, it could get rid of one element of opposition – the BlackBerry OS, in the process.
Now we come to the networking side and the obvious suitor for this would be Facebook.
It could kill two birds with one stone. Obtaining the RIM network would provide it with the world’s best IM system – BBM (BlackBerry Messenger).
It would also provide Facebook with access to secure mobile email. The company is looking for ways to monetise its mobile customerbase and such a network would make it easy to deliver advertising messages to handsets.
If RIM did manage to find a buyer for its handset division (and Huawei is another possible buyer), then RIM could well retain the networking side for itself.
It could develop BBM/IM clients for the other three major mobile OS – Windows Phone, iOS and Android, and create an even broader customer base for its secure mobile messaging service.
Indeed, the Fortune 500 companies could well be impressed by the prospect of their mobile email running on a Windows based mobile device rather than RIM’s QNX.
Let’s see what happens next, then, shall we?