RIM's future strong despite BlackBerry outages and outraged users

Some users angered by service outages but remain faithful

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One big feature that Sanders and other users are waiting for is a BlackBerry browser upgrade expected later this year. The WebKit-based browser was unveiled in February at the Mobile World Congress, demonstrated on a BlackBerry Bold 9700.

In addition to the browser, RIM has long been working on a wholesale operating system upgrade, but the delivery date is not known.

With all the strengths of its various components, RIM also has done well taking on rival iPhone and Android phones. A majority of its sales in the past year were to consumers, Burden noted. RIM has produced the BlackBerry Storm and the Storm 2 with a touch screen and features designed to lure consumers, and it has invested heavily in television advertising.

The biggest threats to RIM do not come from network outages and annoyed users, but from Android phones and the iPhone, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. Gartner last fall forecast that the RIM operating system would lose market share globally by the end of 2012, dropping from nearly 20% of sales of mobile devices with the RIM OS in 2009 to 14% in 2012.

Burden said he doesn't think the RIM operating system will do that poorly, however. He calculates that the RIM OS had an 18.8% market share in 2009 and will see a "slight decline" to 18.3% over the next two years, but will be at 18.5% in 2014.

RIM shipped about 23 million BlackBerry devices in 2008 and 34 million in 2009, and it will ship about 40.6 million in 2010, ABI research predicts.

RIM's future success, even with stiff competition from the iPhone and Android phones, is heavily based on future sales successes in Asian markets, especially the huge markets of China and India, Burden added. "You've got to remember that RIM is really just now getting into the Asian market," Burden said.

Chinese buyers "tend to like what Westerners have, and the BlackBerry so far has been one of those pieces of forbidden fruit with a good infrastructure behind it that is just now being dangled out there in front of the Chinese," Burden said. "China could be very significant for RIM."

IDC's forecast for RIM in North America is the most optimistic, predicting that it will continue to lead all other operating systems each year through 2014, with Android-based phones coming in second. IDC predicts that 41.7 million BlackBerry devices will be shipped in North America in 2014, up from 23.5 million in 2009. Android will be second in 2014, at 38 million shipments, up from 5 million in 2009, IDC said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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