Buy Nokia, Prepare RIM's Grave

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Somebody out there probably still holds shares of Nortel Networks (NRTLQ: OTC). It's really nothing to be ashamed of. I logged into an account I had been ignoring to find 29 shares next to the following listing: BORDERS GROUP MICHIGAN INC NO STOCKHOLDERS' EQUITY 01/12/2012. Stuff happens.

That said, I can only hope the volume I see come in on NRTLQ each day does not represent a fresh long play or some pathetic attempt to average down. Even Nortel itself advises investors to stay away:
As previously announced, Nortel does not expect that the Company's common shareholders or the NNL preferred shareholders will receive any value from the creditor protection proceedings and expects that the proceedings will result in the cancellation of these equity interests.

It would not shock me to see that boilerplate come from Nokia ( NOK) or Research in Motion ( RIMM) at some point over the next couple to a few years. At this juncture, both stocks represent highly speculative plays. Each company requires wholesale change or something else extraordinary to take place in the absence of such a turnaround if it expects to, once again, deliver results for shareholders.

Ingredients of a Turnaround

Domino's Pizza ( DPZ) executed what will go down as one of the great turnarounds of our time. The company took to the extreme the first thing you need to do to chart a truly new course: A private and public acknowledgement that something is seriously wrong.

Domino's realized it required more than a tweak here and a tweak there. If you recall, Domino's basically told the world we suck!. It positioned an entire ad campaign around that reality. Domino's promised to get better. And it did.

It's not just that the quality of Domino's pizza has improved (it really has), but the company transformed itself into a social company. Domino's makes ordering online or via smartphone a smooth, pleasant and interactive process. Domino's took a massive risk, but pulled off its plan. In fact, it has probably worked out better than anybody at the company could have ever imagined. Shareholders reaped rewards as well; DPZ is up about 135% over the last two years.

For one reason or another, RIM refuses to follow Domino's lead and tell the world the truth -- that it sucks. In fact, it's doing just the opposite. Late last year on Seeking Alpha, I wrote about a well-produced television commercial RIM ran, particularly during Canadian hockey telecasts. In it, a group of young hipsters use Blackberry smartphones to set up a late-night bike ride through the rain-slicked streets of a dark and misty downtown. There was just one little issue with the otherwise excellent effort:
Everybody knows that the loft-dwelling, urban hipsters you see heading out on a nighttime group ride would be texting on iPhones, not BlackBerries. In fact, it's almost surreal to see that set messaging on something made by RIM and not Apple

RIM made the feeble attempt to brand Blackberries as cool. That's akin to Domino's ignoring the fact that it sent out disgusting-looking and awful-tasting pizzas three years ago.

For all intents and purposes, RIM has told investors, in no uncertain terms, that it has absolutely no plans to make any real change. The company intends to move forward with a pipeline that does not look a whole lot different from previous, failed efforts. In fact, you can hardly call the product RIM is about to stake its survival on -- Blackberry 10 -- all that meaningfully distinct from anything that has come before it.

While Nokia did not go to the extreme Domino's did, the company admitted failure even if it did not say as much when it dropped the Symbian platform. It also welcomed the type of move RIM was rumored to make for months.

Microsoft ( MSFT) might just save Nokia's hide. If the new Nokia Lumia Windows Phone is any indication, I think there's a hot cup of soup's chance in Finland that it might happen.

Lumia is a solid phone. I own one. I only dislike two things about: The absence of Pandora ( P) and the poor performance of MSFT's voice recognition system, TellMe, when put up against Apple's ( AAPL) Siri.

Microsoft dropped the ball with TellMe. First, I did not even know my Lumia came equipped with it. I inadvertently held down the Windows icon at the bottom of the phone and discovered it. Second, TellMe has been around for some time, but Microsoft has done very little with it. If it had, it could be as good as if not better than Siri.

Instead, it's pretty bad. Ask TellMe a question and it, more often than not, does one of two things, tells you it cannot answer or directs you to a general Bing search of your command. It's simply unacceptable that I cannot get local results for even the most basic queries for neighborhood restaurants and such. The voice recognition technology is up to par, but the utility of the feature is an embarrassment compared to Siri on iPhone 4S.

Despite my concerns in this regard, I do not think Microsoft (or Nokia) is stupid. It realizes it needs to step up its game. While it seems most people consider the latest Lumia the make-it-or-break-it phone for Nokia as a company and Windows as a mobile platform, I disagree. I see the two companies working out the kinks with this release. Later this year, it becomes "go time" as Windows 8 hits the streets and powers not just Nokia smartphones, but a rumored tablet.

RIM never acknowledged its abject failure. It continues to refuse to make relevant change. And it did not appear to seek the type of collaboration that could have helped facilitate the turnaround it never really admitted to having to undertake. For that reason, and others, RIM goes the way of Nortel Networks.

While I do not expect the Windows platform or Nokia to unseat Android or Apple anytime soon for smartphone market share, a real possibility exists that they can come in a strong number three. And this will be good enough for, barring unforeseen and remarkable circumstances, the price of a share of NOK to become more expensive than one RIMM share by the end of 2013, if not sooner.

At the time of publication, the author was long MSFT, NOK and P.