TORONTO (Reuters) - It seems there is little Research In Motion can do these days to impress analysts convinced that Apple and Google will eventually dominate the booming smartphone and tablet markets.
RIM trades at a significant discount to the two Silicon Valley tech giants, implying a view that the Canadian company's growth will lag in the coming year.
On Thursday, the BlackBerry maker posted strong earnings growth and shipments that topped Wall Street expectations. Even so, its shares didn't bounce dramatically.
Its dominance of the corporate segment is seen waning as banks and other companies that once relied on RIM's encryption to protect their mobile correspondence seek alternatives.
It stepped confidently into emerging markets with huge growth potential but is seen losing that edge as soon as Google's Android operating system shows up on cheaper devices.
It tells the tech and corporate worlds it is working on a tablet that will blow Apple's iPad out of the water, and analysts suggest RIM might take a tiny slice of the pie.
"Despite the flood of new tablets hitting the market, the Apple iPad remains the overwhelming choice of business buyers," concludes a ChangeWave survey conducted in November.
"Questions remain," says one Friday note, hours after RIM posted strong third-quarter numbers and said profit, shipments and sales in the current quarter will also beat expectations.
"Momentum fading," warns another. "Clear signs that the next (quarter) should be a bad one," intones a third.
Analysts on Friday picked over RIM's relative weakness in the United States, the most saturated and valuable smartphone market, and its rising inventory levels, which RIM said was due to a burst of orders ahead of the Christmas shopping season.
"While sell-in of new models, higher holiday inventory, and a larger international mix explains some of the increase, we continue to believe an inventory correction looms in RIM's future," Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum wrote in a note.
He suggested the pullback could come in the current quarter or the next, which ends May 29.
That said, dissenting voices say the intense focus on North America, and the belief that where the U.S. market goes the rest are sure to follow, could be misguided.
"Sector analysts sometimes seem to ignore sales patterns in Brazil and Indonesia and even Europe," said Tero Kuittinen, an analyst from MKM Partners in New York.
He said 80 percent of mobile phone users live in countries where carriers don't subsidize the initial cost of a device, putting the iPhone out of reach for many.
"It's not necessarily a very productive way of looking at RIM to be always asking can they challenge iPhone," he said.
In a expanding market such as Indonesia, a BlackBerry sells for around $300 compared with $600 for Apple's iPhone and devices running Google's Android operating system, said Todd Coupland from CIBC World Markets.
"We're not of the camp that every next quarter is a peak, which has been getting pushed out by the bears all year long," he said.
RIM's shares traded 2.5 percent higher at $60.74 by mid-afternoon on the Nasdaq. They were 3 percent higher at C$61.42 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Editing by Frank McGurty