RIM's stock price jumps on news of increased subscribers

BlackBerry 10 'on track' promise by CEO also helps

Research In Motion's stock price jumped more than 6% Wednesday after CEO Thorsten Heins addressed developers and said, among other things, that BlackBerry subscriptions had climbed to 80 million, up from 78 million in the second quarter.

Heins also described new BlackBerry Hub and BlackBerry Flow elements of the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is on track to appear on new smartphones in the first quarter of 2013. His full 39-minute keynote given Tuesday at BlackBerry Jam Americas 2012 in San Jose can be seen online.

The jump in subscriptions surprised many analysts, after all the bad news from RIM over the past year. RIM's stock price declined nearly 60% this year, and its share of smartphones globally fell to 5% globally. Over the past five years, when the iPhone first knocked the wind out of the BlackBerry's dominance, the RIM stock price has declined about 90%.

After the Jam keynote, RIM's stock price jumped to $7.01 a share at 3:30 p.m. ET, a 6.21% improvement over Tuesday's close.

The increase in subscribers was the main cause for the stock price rise, although some analysts said it was mysterious how the subscription numbers were derived. They said the increase probably came from lower-priced BlackBerry smartphones sold in emerging markets, not in North America or Europe.

Heins gave a tiny insight about where the subscriber increase might lie, noting that BlackBerry has done well in Southeast Asian countries, which he has visited in recent weeks.

"In Southeast Asia, smartphone adoption has gone through the roof, and BlackBerry is outpacing smartphone adoption in several of these markets," Heins said in the keynote.

Analysts said that BlackBerry Messenger, with 60 million subscribers, is popular in such countries.

What might matter most in the U.S. and Canada is how well the BlackBerry 10 platform will work for large enterprises, some of which were burned by the service outage in October 2011 that hit several continents and lasted several days.

Heins said enterprise IT shops are testing the new BlackBerry 10 Enterprise Service, which allows them to see on a single console all BlackBerry users as well as employees using other smartphones to access corporate networks and apps.

That kind of mobile management allows a company to let employees use their own smartphones in a secure environment while giving the workers "all the flexibility they want," Heins said.

Heins also showed developers how BlackBerry 10 provides new interface capabilities such as Hub and Flow, as well as further enterprise protections with BlackBerry Balance. With Hub, a user can decide which elements on a smartphone to put in a single group on the display, such as email, BlackBerry Messenger messages, or updates on Twitter, Facebook or Linked In.

Flow allows a user to swipe a screen with a slight pull-back gesture from anywhere, even inside an app, to see a list of elements in the Hub. Heins noted that to work within the Hub, users don't need to call up a separate app.

By using Hub and Flow, "there's no more in and out [of apps] and no more brain occupied with 'dammit, which app am I using right now?'" Heins said.

Also of vital use to IT shops, Heins said, is BlackBerry Balance, which will allow two separate user profiles, or identities, to reside on a single BlackBerry 10 smartphone. The two identities are separate, "right down to the OS, which is a multithreaded OS as part of BB 10," Heins added.

Each identity is fully secure and encrypted. To switch from one to the other, a user pulls down on the display and strikes either buttons for "personal" or "work" to see apps in each area. There are also separate buttons to reach an approved set of apps in an App World for enterprise, and to reach the conventional public App World for personal use.

Heins' keynote concluded with a strong tone that may have bolstered investor, if not developer, confidence. "There's a new culture at RIM, new energy and a lot of fighting spirit in this company," he said. "We are fighting. Join us."

The optimism and demonstrations of BlackBerry 10 features didn't persuade everyone that RIM can reverse its fortunes, especially against competition from iPhone and Android devices.

"I haven't seen anything in BlackBerry 10 that makes me believe RIM can recover," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. "They've lost the faith of the IT buyer with poor quality, service outages and fragile devices that have left IT managers frustrated, and this IT group was the last buying group for RIM. The service has proven to be a liability with service outages."

As for BlackBerry Enterprise Services, Kerravala said many of those benefits can be found in mobile device management software products from companies such as Zenprise and MobileIron.

A recurring theme among analysts is that RIM can see are resurgence if the BlackBerry 10 smartphones are a hit, although Kerravala doesn't expect them to do well in North America.

"I think the competitive landscape with iPhone and Android is too strong, so that's why the emerging economies are so important to RIM," he said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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