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Why BlackBerry Users Will Defect

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Research in Motion faces a battle as more customers show iPhone and Android envy.

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Call it a matter of touchscreen envy, but many BlackBerry (RIMM) users are starting to feel the 24-month-contract itch and they're willing to switch to an iPhone (AAPL) or Google's (GOOG) Nexus One, according to a recent study.

Conducted by the online market researchers Crowd Science, the survey results show that BlackBerry users are more likely to abandon the brand than iPhone or Android users. When asked of the likelihood of buying a particular brand of cell phone or smartphone if the purchase was made the following day, 39% of BlackBerry owners said they "definitely or probably would" nab an iPhone. And roughly one-third of the participants claimed they'd snatch up an Android phone.

Meanwhile, the fierce Google-Apple war seems to have bled into the user base.

An overwhelming majority of iPhone users -- 92% -- would likely stay loyal to the Apple device, and only a tad fewer Android owners -- 87% -- made a similar claim. However, Apple zealots who unleash a fervent hatred for opposing teams may have met their indignant match. While 15% of iPhone users "definitely or probably would not" recommend an Android device, a whopping 45% of Android users would never dare give Steve Jobs' baby a thumbs up. Whether that's a product of outsider's scorn or buyer's remorse, the study didn't pose the question.

But as the battle between Apple and Google rages on, BlackBerry users look on with a degree of envy. Despite commanding a hefty lead over the iPhone in the smartphone market share -- 42% versus 25%, respectively -- the numbers for RIM have begun to drop, along with Windows Mobile (MSFT) and Palm (PALM). According to comScore, RIM's market share dropped a percentage point in the fourth quarter of 2009 from the third quarter, and Apple's rose 1.2%. PCWorld's Tony Bradley calculated that, given the same rate of rise and decline, Apple could surpass RIM's market share by February 2012. And buoyed by the success of the Motorola Droid (MOT), Android showed the biggest gains -- rising 2.7% to 5.2%.

Crowd Science CEO John Martin addressed the study in the company blog. "These results show that the restlessness of BlackBerry users with their current brand hasn't just been driven by the allure of iPhone." He added, "Rather, BlackBerry as a brand just isn't garnering the loyalty seen with other mobile operating systems."

So what's the allure of the competitors? Why are BlackBerry users more willing to jump ship?

The brand has long been the choice of tech-savvy executives who are wirelessly tethered to their jobs. But as evidenced in the study, only 7% of BlackBerry owners still use their device exclusively for work. For years, the smartphone has ceased to be merely associated with work -- an evolution that Apple played a large role in influencing. However, the BlackBerrys, the Palm Treos, and the Windows Mobile devices never successfully adopted the veneer of "recreational smartphones" nearly as well as Apple or Android.

Put simply, iPhones, Droids, and Nexus Ones just look like more fun. And as the "fun factor" became a significant reason why smartphones became as popular as they did, any manufacturer still focusing on the business aspects fell out of favor with users.

What's the appeal of a physical keyboard if the iPhone can remember where you parked? Why use Microsoft Exchange when the Droid works seamlessly with Gmail -- a service more businesses are using anyway? Is there a point to waiting for a BlackBerry version of an app that has dozens of variants available in the App Store or Android Market?

Unless a new BlackBerry device sheds the brand's stodgy work image, RIM is going to miss out on all the fun -- and customers.
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