BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) looked like a prime takeover target last night after its co-chief executives abruptly quit because of poor sales.
Its shares fell as much as 7.8 per cent on the news that Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were stepping down from the troubled Canadian company after two decades at the helm.
Investors were unimpressed by the decision to promote the chief operating officer Thorsten Heins, a little-known German, to chief executive.
Mr Heins admitted RIM needs to change: "We need to be more marketing-driven. We need to be more consumer-oriented because this is where a lot of our growth is coming from. That is essential in the US."
RIM's stock-market value has now plunged almost 90 per cent since 2008 to C$8.33bn (£5.3bn) as it was eclipsed by rivals, notably iPhone maker Apple.
Analysts said one of the Asian technology giants such as Samsung, HTC or LG would be a front-runner to make a bid as the BlackBerry owner looks cheap. Amazon, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, could also be interested after RIM rebuffed an approach last summer.
Microsoft and Nokia have been mooted as possible suitors, but those two companies have now formed a partnership together, making a bid for RIM from either of them appear less likely.
Investors believe there is still huge value in the mobile market and point to Google's decision last year to buy another troubled mobile company, Motorola, for $12.5bn (£8bn).
Some disgruntled RIM shareholders, including the activist investor Jaguar Financial Corp, have called for a sale of RIM as a whole or in parts – such as the handset business and network services operation.
Mr Heins was adamant a break-up of the company is not on the agenda, saying: "I believe, we have and will become a stronger company."
But Will Draper, a telecoms analyst at Espirito Santo bank, said a takeover might be the best hope for RIM.
"They really should be thinking of partnering or merging with another handset manufacturer," he said. "I see them as a little bit like Nokia in that they were in a position when they were dominating smartphones.
"They were synonymous with the mobile internet and mobile email and they've totally lost their way. Their technology has been superseded."
Mr Draper added: "There are so many problems with the design and the operating system. Those two things together require enormous investment – billions of dollars – to bring them back to parity with Apple and Google's Android and I think it's beyond them."
BlackBerry's patents and business customer base would be the main attractions, particularly for Asian bidders.
One analyst said: "RIM has nothing that Apple would want. I don't know if it has anything Amazon or Google want."
RIM, co-founded by Mr Lazaridis in 1984, launched BlackBerry in 1999 and it became so popular that it was dubbed the "CrackBerry". But the Canadian firm struggled as consumers embraced more user-friendly touch-screens and apps.
Black-Buried: Success, then a catalogue of setbacks
1999 BlackBerry launched as essentially a more sophisticated version of the two-way pager
2003 First smartphone is released, offering email, phone, texting and internet faxing. Quickly proving a massive hit among business customers, it goes on to expand into the consumer market, rapidly taking market share from traditional mobile makers such as Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson.
2007 January Following other smartphone launches, Apple launches its long-awaited iPhone (left), the BlackBerry's nemesis. Steve Jobs' business plan is RIM's in reverse: he starts first with consumers, and then courts businesses.
2010 August States including Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Pakistan and Indonesia threaten to ban BlackBerry Messaging, as messages cannot be monitored
2011 April Launches Playbook tablet (right), to critics' derision. It doesn't even have standalone email. Price hacked down within months
2011 August London riots largely co-ordinated by gangs using BBM
2011 October Outage means BlackBerry users suffer up to four days without email and instant messages
2011 December Forced to scrap name of its new operating system, BBX after discovering it is already a trade mark
2012 January Co-chief executives Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis quit their posts
Duo who spent two decades at the top
Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were co-chief executives for 20 years.
Mr Lazaridis, whose Greek family moved from Europe when he was five, studied electrical engineering before co-founding RIM in 1984. Canadian-born Mr Balsillie, an accountant, joined in 1992. He calls himself a "quant-jock" — a reference to his love of maths and sport.
Both own around 5 per cent, making them a fortune when RIM's value hit nearly £40bn in the good years. They took pay cuts to $1 each last month but that was not enough to mollify investors.