John Paczkowski

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So Much for BlackBerry’s “Clear Shot” at Being No. 3 in the Smartphone Market

BlackBerry_participantSpeaking at BlackBerry’s BlackBerry Jam developers gathering last September, CEO Thorsten Heins touted the company’s BlackBerry 10 operating system as the engine that would drive its recovery, making it once again a player in the market it pioneered — not the also-ran it had become. “We have a clear shot at being the No. 3 platform in the market,” Heins said. “We’re BlackBerry.”

Now, a year later, the company’s aspiration to turn the Google-Apple smartphone duopoly into a triumvirate seems to have become a long shot that’s fast receding from view. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android remain the dominant mobile operating systems, and it’s Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, not BlackBerry 10, that’s looking most like a third-place hopeful.

To wit, the latest smartphone sales data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, which shows Windows Phone beginning to emerge as a viable third mobile OS. Indeed, according to the research house, Windows Phone sales hit a market-share record during the three-month period ended in July, climbing 3.3 percentage points year over year to capture 8.2 percent of all smartphone sales in the European Union Five (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom). During the same period, BlackBerry’s share fell to 2.4 percent from 6.7 percent, as the company ceded 4.3 percentage points to its rivals.

KWP_ComTech_OS_Shares_July_13Even more impressive was Windows Phone’s performance in Mexico. There, its share of smartphone sales rose 10.5 percentage points year over year to claim 12.5 percent of the market — enough to make it the second-most-popular mobile OS in the country, above Apple’s iOS. Meanwhile, BlackBerry plummeted, ceding 25 percentage points and falling to 10 percent from 34.9 percent year over year.*

Brutal.

So what’s driving Windows Phone’s ascension? Clearly, it has got to be stealing some customers from BlackBerry in the markets where it’s charting these big increases. But, according to Kantar, it’s also garnering a lot of interest from new smartphone users looking for lower-priced handsets.

“Windows Phone’s success has been in convincing first-time smartphone buyers to choose one of its devices, with 42 percent of sales over the past year coming from existing feature phone owners,” Kantar director Dominic Sunnebo explained. “This is a much higher proportion than Android and iOS. The Lumia 520 is hitting a sweet spot, offering the price and quality that new smartphone buyers are looking for.”

That’s good news for Microsoft and Nokia, but a potentially disastrous turn of events for BlackBerry. The sweet spot to which Sunnebo refers is one that it, too, could have exploited, had it been more on point. But it failed to do so, bringing its midrange Q5 smartphone to market just weeks before announcing plans to explore its strategic alternatives.

And now, with even the company’s directors saying BlackBerry would be better off as a “niche company,” it seems that BlackBerry’s aspirations to be a third-rank player in the smartphone market were fantasy — or delusion.

BlackBerry did not respond to a request for comment.

* In the U.S., Windows Phone’s rise was more muted; it captured 3.5 percent of smartphone sales, up from three percent. BlackBerry’s decline was less pronounced there as well, falling to 1.2 percent from 1.9 percent.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus