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The amazing untold success story, far bigger story than Apple, is RIM. Blackberries were nerdy US centric business phones only a few years ago. Europeans and Asians would not take to the flat, wide, weird Canadian phones. Try as they might, even as American conglomerates took to Blackberries by storm, and started to call it the Crackberry – 75% of American business/enterprise smartphones are Blackberries (says Ostermann survey in 2009)

The rest of the world did not fall in love with Blackberries. But RIM plugged along and slowly got traction in many markets in the enterprise/corporate space. They did particularly well in Latin America. But then came the SMS texting craze even to American shores, and whether by design or by accident, the youth of the world discovered the Blackberry. Not your boss’s phone, but your kid’s phone. And success followed. About at the same time, again perhaps by design, perhaps by accident, RIM expanded its product line of Blackberries to more models and several of these were more suited to consumers. RIM added cameras to these, and what businesses previously were reluctant to accept – cameraphones – started to infiltrate the business phone space. But now the Blackberries were very well suited for consumer use.

First the overall numbers. Today one in five smartphones sold – actually already 21% by the third quarter of 2009 – was a Blackberry. Remember that only 17% of smartphones are Apple iPhones. Why all that hype about the Apple and total silence about the Blackberry? Partly because this success is on strange foreign shores. In Venezuela the bestselling phone brand – not smartphone brand – is the Blackberry. In Indonesia the youth most popular phone is now the Blackberry. In the UK survey of university students, UK is traditional SonyEricsson and Nokia ‘back yard’ – Blackberry is now the third most popular phone brand, not the iPhone.

On RIM, this is the only brand I can promise you, it will grow market share in 2010. Why? Because first of all, it has a ‘lock’ on the enterprise/corporate market. The business phone market will not shift simply because there is one hot new smartphone this quarter, like a Palm Pre or Motorola Droid or iPhone 3GS or Google Nexus One or Nokia E72. The business phone market is incredibly stable because business customer IT departments resist any change and any new systems to be added and to be supported. In the big US market, Blackberry can very safely rely on something nearly 75% of all business smartphone sold this year. It may fluctuate a little up or down, but it is incredibly stable.

At the same time, the Blackberry keeps making more inroads to business phone use in all other markets, due to its incredibly well optimized business oriented form factors, solutions and apps and services. The Blackberry is simply the best enteprise phone solution on the planet. Now they have President Obama as the ultimate unofficial spokesman, the Blackberry President. They have achieved such certifications as NATO level quality of security on their device so for any business users, this is really a secure and safe platform. Their non-US global business-oriented smartphone user base will grow disproportionately well, rivalled only by Nokia with its E-Series. This market share segment will be particularly secure from any inroads by any new operating systems like the Apple iPhone or Google Android or Samsung Bada. Not because the phone is bad, but simply because IT departments will fight tooth and nail against any new OS. A survey by TBI Research in 2009 found that 80% of US businesses refuse to have more than one operating system for smartphones – and in most cases that is now the Blackberry. This is an incredibly stable source of revenue and unit sales and subscriptions for RIM.

But its huge growth is that successful transition from business phone to residential phone. And while all the press, analysts, pundits and ‘experts’ obsess about touch screen smartphones, the truth is that far more QWERTY phones are sold worldwide than touch screen phones. The internet use is not addictive, but SMS text messaging is addictive as proven in university studies like the one at Queensland University of Australia. So while both inputs are of course desirable and have their proponents, the fact is, that QWERTY trumps touch screen. Why is Nokia now rolling QWERTY keypads to its cheapest non-smartphones? Nokia know this, they invented the QWERTY keyboard in the world’s first smartphone, the Communicator 9000, and they were the world’s first entity to suggest SMS might be addictive, a decade ago. Nokia know this.

But RIM have optimized their phones for mobile messaging. It is a perfect starting point. Then they have the Blackberry instant messenger, which appeals to the youth in particular as it offers free messages between Blackberry users. That in turn brings in a contagion effect, you want to have the Blackberry specifically, because your friends use it. And then there is the cool factor, suddenly the Blackberry is the phone all older teenagers and young adults want to have. RIM is right now in a sweet spot, all things going for them. It is no surprise, that in the shadow of the world’s most spectacular high tech launch ever, the iPhone – RIM has consistently outsold the iPhone and grown its own market share.

I can tell you that often analysts and pundits even in the various early adopter markets like say Indonesia, where Blackberries emerged as the youth ‘must-have’ phone, inspite of their considerable cost differential above typical youth phones; the early experts were dumbfounded and could not explain it. I have heard various RIM experts say the same, that they are not sure exactly how and why, but are trying to learn this as much as possible and then capitalize on this knowhow.

I think it speaks volumes that Nokia is copying RIM not only with E-Series form factors, but now with cheaper non-smartphones adopting QWERTY keypads. Both RIM and Nokia know that the biggest single segment of the smartphone battlefield will not be touch screens, it will be QWERTY phones. And I would hope that at times the operators/carriers would be reminded of this too – that AT&T and O2 and other networks complain about congestion with the iPhone, but QWERTY Blackberries and Nokias do messaging, very profitable services for the operators… So its in the core profitability interests of the operators/carriers to promote QWERTY phones, not touch screen phones.

Anyway, all signs suggest that Blackberries are achieving ‘must have’ status among the youth. Youth fashions and desires can be fickle so this is by no means a guarantee of long term success, but for this year 2010 this bodes very well for Blackberry. As they are very secure to hold onto business/enterprise customers and see growth in youth markets, they are sure to pick up some market share points even in this very competitive year of 2010.

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