BlackBerry, iPhone Battle Raging On

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Research In Motion and Apple continue to dominate the consumer smart phone market according to the latest ChangeWave survey. The survey shows Apple enjoying another good quarter in the aftermath of its 3G iPhone release.

But while RIM sales momentum has been sluggish in recent quarters, its new BlackBerry product launches have unleashed a jump in consumer planned buying that suggests a full-scale battle with Apple for market supremacy in 2009.

But are the new BlackBerry products strong enough to capitalize on the increased consumer interest?

The ChangeWave survey of 3,803 cell phone owners, has taken a close look at smart phone market trends, including consumer reaction to RIM's launch of the BlackBerry Storm and how it compares to the Apple iPhone. The December 9-15, 2008 survey was conducted just weeks after the Storm's initial release.

Smart Phone Market Demand

The overall growth rate for the smart phone market has contracted since the previous survey, but it's still positive despite the recessionary climate. A total of 12.2% of respondents plan on buying a smart phone over the next 90 days, 0.3% more than previously.

Current Market Share: Apple vs. RIM vs. Palm. While RIM (41%) is still the consumer market share leader, it has fallen 1-pt since our previous survey in September to its lowest percentage of the last 12 months.

At the same time, Apple (23%; up 6-pts) has witnessed explosive growth - up 6-pts just since September. Importantly, its overall market share has more than doubled in the past six months - a direct result of the July release of the 3G iPhone.

Taken together, Apple and RIM now control two-thirds of the smart phone market, as smaller/weaker players such as Palm (9%) have proven unable to compete.

Next 90 Days - Winners and Losers.

The picture going forward points to changes in the smart phone market. RIM (39%; up 9-pts) shows real momentum due to its slew of new product launches - e.g., the Storm, Bold, Pearl Flip - and appears capable of giving Apple a real run for its money in the first quarter of 2009.

Moreover, after the huge wave of enthusiasm generated by the 3G iPhone launch, Apple consumer planned buying (30%; down 4-pts) appears to have settled down somewhat.

In short, as the first quarter approaches, the ball has shifted back into BlackBerry's court in the form of a big uptick in consumer interest which they can potentially capitalize on. But is the new RIM lineup of consumer products strong enough to take full advantage of their increased demand?

BlackBerry Storm vs. The iPhone

The current survey took a close-up look at the reaction of 61 owners of the new BlackBerry Storm, and compared the results to a similar survey in July 2007 of new owners of the original iPhone.

Customer Satisfaction. The overall satisfaction rating given by new owners of the Blackberry Storm can, at best, be characterized as lukewarm. One in three Storm owners (33%) said they were Very Satisfied with their new model, well below the 52% Very Satisfied rating given by all current owners of BlackBerry smart phones.

Simply put, the Storm satisfaction rating is similar to that of mid-tier smart phone manufacturers like Nokia (32%), Motorola (32%), HTC (31%) and Samsung (30%). While far from bad, it's mediocre - which means it's a potential concern regarding RIM's head-to-head battle with Apple.

For comparative purposes, here's how the BlackBerry Storm's favorability ratings stack up against those of the original iPhone (taken in a survey of new iPhone owners in July 2007, less than a month after its initial release).

As the charts on the side show, the original iPhone's Very Satisfied rating (77%) was more than double that of the new BlackBerry Storm (33%). Importantly, the Storm's Unsatisfied rating (14%) is three times higher than that of the original iPhone (5%).

Note that 4% of new buyers report they've already returned/exchanged their Storm, or are Very Likely to return it. Another 7% say they're Somewhat Likely to return or exchange it.

BlackBerry Storm: Key Likes and Dislikes

Respondents were asked what they liked best and disliked most about the Storm. The results show that RIM made the right choice in producing a touch screen phone, being that it's a highly popular option in the smart phone market. One-in-two (49%) say Touch Screen Interface is what they like best about their BlackBerry Storm. Other key likes include Screen Size (46%) and Screen Resolution (43%).

At the same time, the touch screen interface represents one of the BlackBerry Storm model's biggest Achilles heels. Regarding dislikes, Lack of a QWERTY Keyboard (21%), Touch Screen Interface (20%) and Difficult to Use (20%) were top issues, along with Short Battery Life (21%).

Summary

The smart phone market is now dominated by two companies - Apple and Research In Motion. According to our survey results, the Apple iPhone trails the RIM BlackBerry in terms of current market share - but the iPhone has experienced strong growth since its inception and explosive growth since the release of the 3G model in July 2008.

Going forward, RIM is showing a surge in momentum due to its slew of new product launches - and appears capable of giving Apple a strong challenge in 2009. But the real test in a cutthroat market is how satisfied consumers actually are with their new models.

In this survey, we found the BlackBerry Storm's satisfaction rating to be middle-of-the-road - lagging behind the average rating for other RIM BlackBerry models. It's not that the BlackBerry Storm is a bad phone. It's just that the initial launch has glitches which have resulted in a mediocre satisfaction rating.

Competitive pressures may have caused the Storm to be launched before it was quite ready for primetime. But if RIM can rapidly fix its initial glitches and bugs, the survey shows that this new offering - along with RIM's other recently released models - will provide accelerated momentum for RIM in 2009.

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Current Market Shares


Future Buying Plans


Initial Customer Satisfaction

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