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2/4/2011
06:59 PM
Kurt Marko
Kurt Marko
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Can BlackBerry Survive?

The recent euphoria over Verizon finally prying the iPhone from AT&T's exclusive grasp, along with the almost weekly announcement of new Android products, has probably left smartphone pioneer RIM feeling awfully neglected. While the BlackBerry is merely the latest in a long line of technology products that can lay claim to the honorary Mark Twain "Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated" award, if not outright dying, the BlackBerry may be slowly creeping to irrelevance.

The recent euphoria over Verizon finally prying the iPhone from AT&T's exclusive grasp, along with the almost weekly announcement of new Android products, has probably left smartphone pioneer RIM feeling awfully neglected. While the BlackBerry is merely the latest in a long line of technology products that can lay claim to the honorary Mark Twain "Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated" award, if not outright dying, the BlackBerry may be slowly creeping to irrelevance.BlackBerry, long the darling of corporate execs and political power brokers, still holds the title of "smartphone most often found in the back of a New York taxi", but in 2011, it's lost the distinction of "smartphone most likely to be in a buyer's shopping cart". While there are about as many market share estimates as their are analyst firms tracking the phone industry, a spate of new numbers in the past few weeks makes it clear that Google's Android is the new king of the smartphone world. Even Apple's iconic product couldn't keep pace in 2010, although having a second U.S. carrier will undoubtedly boost the iPhone's totals this year. According to a meta analysis by eMarketer, RIM is now third in the U.S. smartphone race, and is expected to drop futher behind next year. These results are validated worldwide by an analysis from Canalys which show both Nokia and RIM losing significant share points to Google's onslaught. These numbers are clearly driven by the public's love for large, clean touchscreen designs, something RIM notoriously botched with it's Edselesque Storm that likely did permanent damage to their touchscreen bona fides. Sure, the BlackBerry's micro-QWERTY keyboard is a hit with text message junkies, but for every other mobile application, their design looks about as quaint (and useful) as a rotary phone.

The debate rages over the meaning of these market shifts to corporate IT buyers. In the short term, probably nothing. BlackBerry, with it's noteworthy email security, excellent central management system and worldwide, nonexclusive availability will remain a hit with inherently conservative enterprise and government users. Longer term, as the era of corporate liable phones goes the way of secretarial pools and smartphones become more personal fashion accessory than office product, RIM's status looks iffy. Employees wanting, nay demanding, to use their personal phones to access corporate email is a well established trend, and in the future, two-thirds of these will be Apple or Google devices.

As corporations displace laptops with tablets and smartphones, a phenomenon recently highlighted by Deloitte, and enterprises start porting custom applications to these devices, it seems likely the BlackBerry OS could be the odd man out. Android and iOS have already established application development and distribution ecosystems of such size and mindshare that even Microsoft can't penetrate the mobile app market. It's hard to see how RIM will fare any better. If this duopoly translates their consumer dominance to the corporate app world, RIM could see the accelerated withering of their core franchise.

No, the BlackBerry isn't dead, but if I were an enterprise IT developer I'd be getting familiar with the Android and iOS SDKs. Likewise, if they haven't already, IT mobility managers would do well to stop with the benign neglect, stanch the increasing smartphone chaos, and deploy tools or SaaS services to centrally manage and secure Android and iPhone devices.

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