The indications have been there for some time, but the rise and rise of Google’s Android seems to be at the expense of RIM’s BlackBerry. Whilst iPhone sales are slowly increasing, RIM is seeing its market share eroded. In an attempt to bring back their market share the Canadian company announced a number of new handsets (and launched their poorly received Play Book) at BlackBerry World this week. One interesting development was the announcement of an NFC enable BlackBerry Bold for contactless payments and ticketing. At the moment the handset has only been announced for the US users. The potential of NFC is significant and the fact that RIM are early to market in this technology could give them an advantage.
But are these handsets enough to increase BlackBerry’s position in the handset wars? Not according to Wall Street, with analysts predicting that the developments were little more than incremental and did nothing to deal with the underlying problem: good handsets but a poor operating system. The bottom line is that RIM are attempting to play catch-up by adding iPhone-like features. In a time when OS choices are driving smartphone adoption, Wall Street analysts claim that they are not addressing the ‘ineptness’ (as one analyst described it) of their operating system.
Although Blackberry was positioned primarily to the business market, their key success in the last few years has been BBM, their free, built-in messaging product. It has been widely adopted by teenagers in a similar way to the adoption of SMS ten years ago. Unfortunately young people are not the key demographic for success in the market. It’s the 25+ professionals (so, people with money) that are defining the iPhone and Android sales. Getting sales are not just about operating systems and great handsets, these days it’s also about app stores. Apple defined the market, but Android are rapidly catching up with iTunes. They already have more free apps, and the latest predictions show Android Market overtaking Apple’s offering the autumn. Does anyone buy a BlackBerry for the app store? Not very likely.
With all the talk of mCommerce and contactless (NFC in particular), a war between the operators and handset manufacturers was always on the cards. It looks like it’s beginning to kick off. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that RIM (BlackBerry) was ‘locking horns’ with operators over who controlled the NFC customer data. The issue is about where ‘credentials’ (the encrypted personal payment information) will be stored. Will it be on the SIM card (operator) or the phone memory (handset manufacturer). This is much more than a row over a technical function, as the customer will be tied either to their network or handset depending on how this data is stored. Whilst RIM talked about their close relationship with operators at the Mobile World Congress, one senior figure at Bell Canada recently stated “we expect some closed operating-system vendors will probably try to build into the handset. RIM and Apple fall into that category”.
The problem from an operator perspective is that whilst revenues are being squeezed, customers are demanding much more for their money, in particular they want more data. How do the operators make more money in already saturated markets? The answer is through providing mCommerce. In order to do that they will need to invest in expensive security infrastructures, making it even more critical to keep their customers with SIM-based credentials. On the other hand, we have increasingly seen handset manufacturers and handset operating systems define the mobile market and mobile content. The two that have done most to drivfe this change are Apple’s iPhone (and appstore) and Google’s Android.
My money is on the handset/operating systems winning out. Apart from their obvious success in defining the mobile content channel, they seem to have the revenue model right. Operators tend to charge consumers or merchants/content producers high transaction charges – look at app stores before Apple (£1000 + to get your game listed) and the low payouts on premium SMS. On the other hand, Apple and Google are past masters at the freemium model – get something for free and pay if you like it. And there’s no question about which model consumers prefer.
Dean Bubley’s blog gives more insight into the NFC revenue model
It looks like the BlackBerry torch hasn’t exactly lit up (apologies for the pun) the public imagination. Reports show that 150,000 units were sold on launch. That’s one tenth of the launch sales of the iphone 4. RIM’s latest handset is playing catch-up with the Apple offering (but then, isn’t everyone) but then again it isn’t really offering any new features. A better OS, yes, but not a radically new one. Having said that, BlackBerry handsets don’t have the same sales profile as the iphone. For starters people tend to get them for functionality, particularly email and BBM rather than looks. In all likelyhood RIM will start discounting the Torch soon and sales will probably be steady as a result. However, RIM are beginning to look like another handset manufacturer who are loosing their way.
Someone had to do it. Following on from gold $1.92m iphone, it’s the 18 carat gold Blackberry. If that wasn’t enough they glued 1400 diamonds to it (hope they used some strong glue). The whole, tasteful package is yours for a mere $200,000.
If you’ve got more money than sense, you can read more about it here.
The latest figures on smartphone sales release by analysts, Canalys, show that Nokia still holds the leading position with 16.4m units shipped in Q3, giving them a share of 39.7% of the market.
RIM’s Blackberry shipped 8.5m in the same period taking a 20.6% share and Apple’s iphone shipped 7.4m taking third place at 17.8%. HTC were forth with 2.2m phones.
It means that smartphone sales rose 4% on last year with total sales reaching 41.4 million.
Once again, there’s no doubting the popularity of the iphone, but it is important to remember that it is only third best selling manufacturer. However, as a single device it is significant, as both Nokia and RIM’s sales cover numerous handsets.