Research In Motion’s fourth-quarter and full-year preliminaries, together with its first predictions for its fiscal 2008, show the business mobility vendor shrugging off stock options investigations with healthy subscriber growth, underscored by the early success of its expansion into the prosumer space.
While revenue growth for the year to March 3, 2007 was 47% to $3bn, multiple carrier launches of its Pearl prosumer handset in fiscal Q4 resulted in 66% year-on-year growth for that period alone, to $561m, and the 1.02 million new subscribers in those three months brought the grand total for the fiscal year to eight million, up from five million 12 months earlier.
There was a time when analysts, us included, fretted about RIM’s over-dependence on hardware for its revenue, and even in these latest figures, that segment still represented 73% of the overall top line, with software at just 5% and services another 19%.
Perhaps we were wrong to worry.
After all, when Nokia sells a new phone it must rely almost entirely on its ergonomics – its look, feel and usability – to build loyalty. But when RIM sells a phone to a new BlackBerry user it is also signing up a subscriber to the addictive push email experience it enables, so the likelihood that customer’s next phone will be a BlackBerry is substantially higher than for rivals in what you might call the POMP (for Plain Old Mobile Phone) market.
While its subscriber base continues to grow at its current rate, and it is predicting 1.125 to 1.15 million new subs in fiscal Q1, it can afford to nurture its software portfolio without haste or urgency. It also ended its financial year with $1.4bn in cash, cash equivalents, short- and long-term investments, up 7% from the $1.3bn three months earlier.
The Pearl in particular appears to have been a savvy development, if the list of operators launching it is anything to go on. RIM hasn’t split out the Pearl’s contribution to overall handsets shipped in the fourth or first quarters, but hints it was a healthy one.
At $3bn in revenue, RIM is now bigger than companies in the networking world like Juniper and 3Com, and even some other IT sector stalwarts like Network Appliance. Of course it is still far smaller than a Nokia or a Motorola, even considering their handset businesses in isolation, but then Rolls Royce doesn’t sell as many cars as Ford.
It ended up paying out $1bn in its fiscal 2006 to put an end to the NTP patent litigation case, only to be embroiled in an SEC investigation into its stock options policies during F2007. Yet the subscribers keep coming, and with them the handset sales.