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Summary:

When the just-released iPad rivals your device for browser share, you know you have a problem. Research In Motion needs to expand beyond its email expertise and get a WebKit browser on its devices.

Apple’s iPad is already nearly even with the BlackBerry line of devices when it comes to mobile device browser market share, Computer World reports this morning citing data from NetApplications.com. With just 500,000 iPads sold in the U.S. so far compared to millions of BlackBerry devices worldwide, the numbers underscore a huge problem for Research In Motion. While BlackBerry devices are the indisputable king when it comes to pocketable email machines, the world is moving to the web, applications and social networking, which their browsers simply aren’t powerful enough to support.

Indeed, BlackBerry devices lost market share in the final quarter of 2009, while iPhone OS and Android, whose browsers are both based on WebKit — grew. And this week a Morgan Stanley trend report indicated that social networking users surpassed email users back in July of 2009. Research in Motion clearly understands the changing trends, but it’s taking a long time to react. In August of 2009, the company purchased Torch Mobile, a development firm that at the time had already created Iris, a WebKit-based browser for Microsoft Windows Mobile devices.  Immediately following the purchase, Torch Mobile announced that all work on the Windows Mobile client would cease, presumably so the company could focus efforts on a BlackBerry web client. Eight months has produced a “coming soon” announcement and a video demo, but no new web client for customers to use.

Although WebKit browsers arguably offer a better browsing experience on mobiles, one could argue that it’s not fair to compare the iPad to BlackBerry handsets since browsing on a 9.7-inch display is so much more enjoyable than on the small screen of a handheld device. And given that Apple — citing the “runaway success” of the iPad — yesterday postponed international iPad orders due to overwhelming U.S. demand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the devices succeeds in trouncing most smartphones when it comes to browser market share. That aside, Research In Motion needs to get in motion on its web browser, because the attention of mobile device users is focused on web activities.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

What Does the Future Hold for Browsers?

  1. Fixing the BlackBerry web browser issue is simple as can be. Just grab a copy of the free BOLT WebKit web browser and never look back.

    Vern

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    1. Dead on correct Vern, as BOLT is a nice option. But apparently, not enough folks don’t know about it. If they did, I don’t think the iPad would already be rivaling web usage on a BlackBerry.

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  2. RIM is in serious danger of losing most of the consumer side business they have gained over the past few years. I know that RIM is addressing the trackball issues and the browser issues, and I have been using BOLT which is nice, but they have to kick it into high gear, Android and Google is going to eat their consumer lunch. Look for products like the HTC Droid Incredible to seriously alter the smartphone landscape on Verizon.

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  3. Blackberry won’t go away any time soon because the 4 billion mobile phones on the planet are migrating to smartphones. Even a small piece of that pie is a pretty big piece.

    But they will become increasingly irrelevant to all but a few. My two-year-old iPhone 3G is still superior to a 2010 Blackberry.

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  4. One of RIM’s defining qualities for carriers is their data usage efficiency. Maintaining this is probably what is making the task of a better browser take longer than it should.

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    1. Will, that’s a great point. Perhaps they should be talking more to the folks at Opera?

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  5. Why are we talking about browser share and social (networking)?

    I assume folks use the blackberry facebook app rather than the browser experience. (Did you know it works in China?!)

    I expect the same would be true of facebook / twitter on iPad, iPhone, etc. I’d expect them to use apps rather then the browser.

    Now if they’d just improve the apps…

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    1. I was using social networking to illustrate the point that folks need more than just a great email device, but your point is well taken, Patrick. And if there’s a strong app for a web service, people are indeed likely apt to use it over a mobile web client.

      On the iPad however — only since you mentioned it — the web clients for Facebook, Twitter and others work extremely well with the large display, so that might be an outlier device in this regard.

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  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if the devices succeeds in trouncing most smartphones.

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  7. Most of Blackberry users are corporate employees who are (in essence) are slaves to their company’s usage policies. If company isn’t allowing web browsing on it’s BBs then browser is irrelevant. So when you talk about how deprived BB users are – most of them are deprived by their IT departments and company policies long before any technology limitations.

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    1. There is also the security aspect. My corporation allows all of the platforms to connect to the corporate infrastructure.

      My understanding is – the security on the iPhone (iPad, touch) isn’t acceptable. They can check e-mail and calendar through a client – but they are only viewing it. It’s not stored on the device, so you need a live network connection.

      My understanding is there is a similar capability for Android.

      Blackberry has encryption which I guess is trusted. My calendar and e-mail is stored on the device. There are facilities to drive a remote wipe of the device if it’s lost or stolen.

      IF Android / Apple can overcome the corporate security issues, I think RIM could be in big trouble.

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    2. I hear what you’re saying, Vlad. To Patrick’s point: don’t overlook the additional enterprise features coming with iPhone OS 4.0: encrypted email and attachments as well as support for SSL VPN to name a few.

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  8. newiphonecovert Saturday, April 17, 2010

    I cannot agree more. I have used blackberry devices for the past 4 years. First pearl 8100 and now Bold 9000. Last week got a factory unlocked
    Iphone. Bit expensive but swallowed as I am not allowed to use Internet where I work now. Only way to reach out to the net is through mobile phone. Blackberry browser is so bad,I feel this will bring down RIM along with it.
    RIP RIM if you dont act quick.

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  9. Well Kevin, I think the browser issue is well known, but I doubt it has much to do with social networking.

    The BlackBerry has some advantages here. Typing is easy and this goes a long way to encourage people to communicate instead of passively participate. See how popular the BlackBerry is with younger and messaging oriented users, the advantages carry over.

    Also, RIM is pretty enthusiastic about deep integration of social services with the BlackBerry push service, device inbox, and homescreen notifications.

    I think your perspective might be too focused on high end media devices to appreciate it. The iPad might be fun, but I can say that I don’t bother with anything that doesn’t work on my phone, which is always with me.

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  10. [...] phones only account for around 10 percent of the mobile web consumption — easily explained by a last-generation and less capable browser. Research In Motion plans to change that with an improved browser based on WebKit, the same engine [...]

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