BlackBerry Blues

Research in Motion’s BlackBerry defined the modern smartphone, but is the (barely) market-leading company losing touch with what consumers want?

Data from Strategy Analytics suggest BlackBerry’s market share of smartphone shipments in the U.S. and Canada fell to 38 percent in March, down from 54 percent the year before. Meanwhile, Apple’s share climbed to 23 percent, up from 18 percent in 2009.

One can only imagine what will happen when the iPhone is non-exclusive to AT&T, and is available on all four major U.S. wireless carriers as BlackBerry devices currently are.

It seems that the only thing keeping many BlackBerry users from switching to iPhones, or more compelling Android-based smartphones (the Motorola Droid, HTC Incredible, etc.), is widespread distaste for touch-screen keyboards.

With the exception of the popular BlackBerry Messenger application, the range of available apps certainly isn’t keeping RIM’s customers coming. The company’s software download site, BlackBerry App World, is as cumbersome as it is limited, with 6,500 apps versus the 225,000-plus available for the iPhone. Thankfully, changes have recently been announced, including expanded payment options. (Customers currently need to pay for all purchases using PayPal, but will soon be able to put app purchases on their monthly wireless bill, or pay by credit card.)

RIM is also gearing up to release its second iPhone-like, touch-screen BlackBerry. Its first keyboardless effort, the BlackBerry Storm, was a disaster—navigation was akin to driving through a snowstorm, thanks to bizarre springboard touch controls and not a single upgrade to its operating system—and now RIM is looking for (or perhaps needing) a hit.

The Wall Street Journal reports the second, yet-to-be-named effort will be on AT&T this fall, and will include a slide-out keyboard in addition to the touch-screen, and a revamped operating system (BlackBerry 6).