March 17, 2010, 10:59 AM — Suddenly this week, Research In Motion began looking vulnerable. Still the top smartphone maker for U.S. customers, the BlackBerry company was stung when a new study revealed that 39 percent of its users would just as soon have an iPhone.
How much trouble is RIM in?
Well, RIM is to smartphones what Microsoft is to corporate computing--the safe, well-integrated choice. There was an old saying, perhaps still true in some companies, that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Well, in smartphones, RIM enjoys the same reputation.
That has the effect of slowing defections, giving RIM a chance to react.
Microsoft, of course, is third in U.S. smartphone sales, after Apple. And with Windows Phone 7 devices hitting stores soon, Redmond's smartphone customers will be facing a painful transition.
That means Microsoft, which has been losing smartphone share and now finds Android-based phones nipping at its heels, could be in even more trouble than RIM, at least in the short term.
RIM's troubles, I fear, are permanent.
Something I'd like to see correlated is whether the BlackBerry devices that users don't like were purchased by an employer or an individual. If the boss paid, some of this longing for an iPhone can be chalked up to routine workplace griping.
On the other hand, people who buy BlackBerry phones for themselves are ripe for the picking, but probably not by Apple. The BlackBerry users I know are closely tied to e-mail and love the hardware keyboard on their devices. The iPhone, of course, lacks a physical keyboard, but Android devices often have one. For this reason, given a little maturity in the Android world, it's not hard to imagine why conventional BlackBerry users would defect to Android rather than the iPhone.
This would be a good move for many business users, in that Google has proven to be far more enterprise-friendly than Apple is ever likely to manage. That will someday make Android devices the BlackBerry's toughest competitor.
What will become of Windows Phone 7?
This is going to be a tough transition for Microsoft. Its entire installed base is essentially in play. I think a generous trade-up program could keep many users in the Microsoft fold, especially if the new models are enterprise-friendly from Day One and can just drop into corporate environments as-is.
The issue, of course, will be money, but my guess is that if Microsoft offers some incentives it will keep a majority of current customers.