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Holding On Positives & BlackBerry OS

This is not a negative accusation. RIM's move to adopt Android apps with QNX may be seen as admitting defeat, but it is a clever (if dangerous) way of heading off one of the largest problems in launching a new OS. Long term how it works with each passing version of Android remains to be seen. Certainly BlackBerry Media Sync for iTunes and Windows Media Player hasn't been a total failure, even if relying on the good will of others in maintaining this compatibility is risky.

What's more RIM can count on remarkable good will. Continuing its Nokia parallels, long time BlackBerry users are as vehement in the defence of their devices as Symbian aficionados and Apple fanboys and will extol to everyone within earshot how good BlackBerry email is and how indispensible BlackBerry Messenger proves. Unlike Nokia, RIM also retains a dominant position in the business market where its services are tightly integrated into corporate systems… systems that usually take years to adopt alternative platforms.

Consequently RIM can still proclaim to be the most popular smartphone brand in the UK. Whether many of these handsets were bought by companies and forced upon their employees is irrelevant at this stage. BlackBerrys keep on selling.

The problem is, to quote Balsillie, "there are a couple more zeros on everything", the stakes have never been higher and the signs are not good. When the iPhone launched on Verizon, America's dominant business carrier, it broke sales records selling one million units in a week. The fact this was seen as disappointing (largely due to the iPhone 4 being three quarters through its life cycle) shows the challenge ahead.

Furthermore the challenge for RIM is arguably greater than the challenge for Nokia. Unlike Nokia, RIM has no volume business to fall back on. If everything goes wrong for the Finns with their Microsoft partnership the company can still ship millions of handsets around the world for peanuts. RIM is a smartphone-or-nothing business and the sector's profit margins are attracting larger, more wealthy rivals to fight to the death. Android apps are all well and good for now, but BlackBerry OS must survive. If RIM is forced to become just another Android handset maker it is going to lose the hardware battle and, ultimately, the war...

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