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Mike Abramsky: Apple vs. RIM revisited

May 9, 2009: 8:27 AM ET

iphone-blackberryWe got a call Friday from Mike Abramsky who wanted to set the record straight -- and crow just a little bit.

Last February we chided Abramsky, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, for seemingly wrong-headed calls on Apple (AAPL) and Research in Motion (RIMM).

Three weeks earlier he had lowered his price target for Apple from $140 to $70 a share -- below all the other analysts' -- and raised his RIM target from $45 to $75.

But as luck would have it, Apple ended up climbing 27.5% to just under $100 a share, and RIM, after issuing an earnings warning, fell 14.5% in one day, to below $50 a share.

Apple v. RIM since Jan 1Those were short-term movements, however, and Abramsky -- who has since raised his target on both stocks (Apple to $165, RIM to $90) -- was calling to point out that while Apple's shares have risen an impressive 51% since Jan. 1, RIM's have done even better, climbing 81% for the year.

"We were wrong about our Apple valuation," he admits. "But we were right about which stock would outperform the other."

Abramsky these days is bullish on both companies, and had interesting things to say about what each has in store for this summer and fall.

RIM, he says, has at least a dozen smartphones in the pipeline -- mostly extensions of its current lineup reconfigured for release with new carriers.

For example, there are new versions of the BlackBerry Bold and Flip coming to Verizon (VZN), and a version of the Curve 8900, which had a good run with T-Mobile (DT), coming to AT&T (T).

But there's also the product code-named Pluto that's half touchscreen and half keyboard, a phone with a slide-out keyboard, and a new version of the touchscreen Storm that has solved the first edition's awkward typing problems, according to carriers who have seen it.

Apple, by contrast, is sticking with its usual lean and stripped-down product line-up. Abramsky sees no more than three iPhones in Cupertino's near-term offerings:

  • A "pro" iPhone with more memory, a better camera, perhaps a flash, and a host of other improvements users have called for
  • A price cut on the current iPhone, to perhaps as low as $99 -- which he says could significantly boost the device's global market share
  • A smaller, entry level "nano" iPhone, but not before next year

"It's not really about Apple versus RIM," he says. "It's not a zero sum game." The two companies have "unique technology skills and focus," he says, and they appeal to different sets of users.

According to Abramsky, the BlackBerry will continue to draw "productivity centric" users who care about security, push e-mail and what he calls "purpose-driven browsing" (for example, looking up a phone number).

"Media centric" users will tend to prefer the iPhone, which Abramsky describes as "unmatched" in terms of Web browsing, iTunes integration, breadth of applications and general user experience.

Together, he says, Apple and RIM will drive the next wave of mobile handset sales -- which he believes have shifted irrevocably from cellphones to smartphones -- and continue to take market share from Nokia (NOK) and Motorola (MOT).

"This is almost Apple's second chance to dominate the industry," says Abramsky, who has been around long enough to remember how the Mac, once overtaken by Microsoft (MSFT) Windows, never caught up.

"Here in the mobile handset market Apple has such a strong sustainable advantage that one could argue that it will continue to dominate and gain market share."

Apple v. RIM since Jan 16So hats off to you, Mr. Abramsky, for owning up to your mistake, for reconsidering your valuations and for imagining markets broad enough to allow both RIM and Apple to prosper.

But for the record, in the four months since you made that Jan. 16 call on Apple, its shares, which closed at $129.19 on Friday, have actually outperformed RIM's ($73.77). See chart at right.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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