In a Social World, BlackBerry’s Browser Looks Rotten

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?

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