Research In Motion shares are down 15% today after the company reported lousy results last night and gave a tepid forecast for the November quarter. (RIM’s Christmas sales don’t happen in earnest until December, so the February quarter is arguably more important. But that’s still a long way away.)
In the meantime, we’d like to point out something that RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie hazily mentioned several times during yesterday’s earnings call as a potential growth driver for the BlackBerry: Some new sort of top-secret services platform that the company will be unveiling during its developer conference later this year.
At one point, during a long rant on the call, he said: “…we are definitely still getting good margins on this but we absolutely invest in it and fair price into it and also build a services platform and you are seeing some very early indications of that, but you are going to see much more of that at our dev conference. You will start to see the platform pieces introduced then“
Another clip: “This is a — kind of a land grab and although we didn’t talk a lot about this on the call, we talked before, there’s a great set of value-added services stuff which you are going to see a lot of unveiling, the capabilities, some of them at our developer conference in early November.”
And another: “you’ve got this consolidated smartphone, what can you do with it, so I really see the services platform being an increasingly important part of what drives people to buy“
So what is this mystery “services platform” that RIM is rolling out?
Part of it is probably an improved billing system for BlackBerry apps, which is still a far inferior apps platform to Apple’s. “We look forward to further enhancing the user experience of AppWorld over the coming months with better integration with our carrier partners and new billing options to make it easier than ever for customers to buy applications for BlackBerry smartphone,” Balsillie said on the call.
But that can’t be enough — there has to be something else.
Is RIM going to try to roll out a subscription music service, like Nokia’s “Comes With Music” or Microsoft’s Zune service? Mapping? Social networking? Video? Something else?
We don’t know, and we’d love to hear your guesses. This could be nothing, and just more posturing from Balsillie, who is known to go on bizarre rants during earnings calls.
But whatever it is, RIM could have a challenge from its carrier parters if it seems to offer any more “services” than it already does.
Carriers, scared to death of becoming dumb pipes, want to be the only ones offering services to consumers. One major partner, Verizon, is already pushing back at RIM, by refusing to install its App World by default on future phones, in favour of Verizon’s own app store.
Any other service that RIM wants to run to boost revenues — that a telco may want to run itself — could be tricky to get past the carriers.