RIM Deathwatch: Maria Bartiromo Dumps BlackBerry for iPhone

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Research in Motion Ltd. (NASDAQ: RIMM) just lost one of its biggest fans. If you have been watching CNBC for years, you know by now that many of the anchors on that financial news network have been BlackBerry addicts for years. That includes anchor Maria Bartiromo. She and other anchors have been longstanding defenders of the BlackBerry smartphone for years and years.

Before you think: “Who cares about a news anchor’s smartphone choice?” you need to consider one thing. When a news anchor is endorsing your product day in and day out, this is free advertising. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has been half of the contributing force to the long slow death of the RIM brand. Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has been the other with its Android OS powering so many devices. On the “Closing Bell” segment of CNBC on Friday Maria Bartiromo gave a special blurb about how she has finally dumped her BlackBerry in favor of an iPhone.

This is not just a one-off event. Free advertisement is hard to beat. This won’t be such a standout move like Bono’s Elevation Partners investing in Palm and then having U2 do a BlackBerry advertisement (yes, that happened and it was a total boob move for Bono’s money matters). Bartiromo talked about the problems she had been having over and over for the last two weeks. Despite the sloppy word typing that you know about if you use an iPhone and despite missing the keyboard, the idea is that the iPhone works. Yet one more long-time champion of the BlackBerry has turned on RIM.

After Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) finally was allowed to carry the iPhone, I too decided to switch to the iPhone. I had been a BlackBerry user before, but my defection to the iPhone was from Palm. I loved the keyboard and still miss the Keyboard. If you ever try to do “on the fly” journalism, and iPhone is just not that easy to use. Still, when things are going wrong with your historical favorite it drive change. I defected to Palm from having originally having a BlackBerry smartphone. The interface was just much better. But now we know that Palm died because it was just not as popular as the screen-only phone wave killed the keyboard phones.  Now keyboard phones are for old-fogeys.

Don’t discount the impact that this key defection will have. RIM lost one of its few unpaid champions today. What happens every time the CNBC anchors are talking down RIM or talking up iPhones for the next few months? Think about it and you might decide that this could just encourage more investors to bet against RIM or to dump RIM. This is also just a few days before RIM’s earnings. RIM already warned that it may now have an operating loss.

RIM’s U.S.-listed stock is now down under $10.00 and its 52-week low is now $9.57. It has a market value of $5.1 billion. If RIM is going to lose money, it just does not matter that the value is now below its net tangible assets. So what? Those coming losses will eat up that tangible value faster than its new management team can imagine.

Maybe this was just one of the last great public holdouts and champions finally capitulating and dumping the keyboard for the cooler iPhone. Maybe you will call it a late-adopter. Either way, RIM just lost a key source of free advertisement and that free advertisement has now morphed into negative publicity.

We just noted RIM as a Brand That Will Disappear in 2013. Let’s just say that we have not exactly been RIM supporters for quite some time.

Today’s news may seem like entertainment, but it is more than that. Think about this… We wouldn’t exactly have a RIM Deathwatch if we did not think RIM was going to either implode or lose so much market share that it becomes largely irrelevant.

JON C. OGG

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