By Barry Levine / Mobile Tech Today. Updated January 25, 2013.
Research In Motion has been confronting countless questions as it gets ready for the big launch of the BlackBerry 10 platform next week. But now there's a new question: Is computer maker Lenovo gearing up to buy or align itself with RIM?
That question follows a report on Thursday in Bloomberg Businessweek that the Lenovo Group, the second largest maker of personal computers in the world, is considering RIM as a possible acquisition. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Chief Financial Officer Wong Wai Ming told the publication that it was "looking at all opportunities -- RIM and many others," and added that Lenovo would "have no hesitation" if the right opportunity presented itself.
Bloomberg reported that Lenovo has been in talks with RIM about various alternatives, although the computer maker has not yet said if it would be making an offer. RIM's shares have tripled since late September, driven by expectations about BB10 and by a possible acquisition or strategic relationship. RIM has not commented on the Lenovo reports.
As the Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM prepares its critical rollout of BB10, it has also been engaged in a review of strategic options. The smartphone environment is dominated by Apple's iPhone and devices using Google's Android operating system, and RIM has continually been losing market share.
The Beijing-based Lenovo, on the other hand, is facing a reverse situation. Instead of losing market share in a booming market as RIM has, it is gaining market share even as sales of PCs decline.
An outright purchase of RIM would need to go through regulatory approval in Canada and the U.S., because of Lenovo's being a Chinese company. In 2005, IBM sold its PC unit to the China-based Lenovo.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, pointed out that the security issues with the Chinese government would mean that an acquisition, if approved, could be "very negative for government contracts" for RIM, and could be problematic in the enterprise market as well.
Some RIM observers have suggested that, because of this potential negative impact and RIM's reliance on enterprise and governmental customers, it is unlikely that an outright purchase by Lenovo for the entire company is in the works. There is some speculation that Lenovo could just bid for the hardware business, and let RIM focus on services and software.
Less than a week ago, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told a German newspaper that his company's strategic review included the possibility of selling its hardware unit and licensing its BB10 software.
Another possible route is a major strategic alliance between the computer company and the smartphone maker, which would have overtones of Microsoft's pact with Nokia.
In recent years, RIM has been mentioned as a possible acquisition by such suitors as Amazon and Samsung, and in the summer there were reports that IBM had been inquiring about buying RIM's enterprise services unit.