RIM's BlackBerry Smartphone Line Needs a Hit, Says Nielsen

Nielsen, on the eve of a RIM announcement, has found loyalty among U.S. BlackBerry users to be far lower than among Apple iPhone or Android users. Its message? RIM needs a hit on its hands.

Nielsen, the venerable ratings company, has a message for BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.

In Nielsen-run surveys with U.S. consumers regarding smartphone use, the company found Google's Android operating system to be the fastest growing in the last quarter-faster even than Apple iOS, running on the range of iPhones. Apple, nonetheless, had both the "most desired phone," in the iPhone, and the strongest loyalty rating in the field.

"Among current subscribers thinking of switching devices, the iPhone remains the most desired phone, finding loyalty with nearly 90 percent of current iPhone users and enticing healthy slices of Android users (21 percent) and BlackBerry owners (29 percent) to consider the move to Apple," Nielsen reported in an Aug. 2 blog post.

"Android's loyalty among switchers (71 percent) outperforms BlackBerry (42 percent)," the post continued, "where half of its users could potentially choose an iPhone or an Android phone for their next device."

Nielsen's message to RIM? Whatever it has planned, it had better get it right. RIM will be holding a media event in New York City Aug. 3, but it's unclear what exactly will be revealed.

One guess is its new OS. RIM has made no secret of its plans to release the BlackBerry 6 operating system in the near term, offering teaser videos and emphasizing new details on its blog.

During RIM's June 24 first-quarter earnings conference call with media and analysts, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie told participants that a "range of exciting new BlackBerry products" will be arriving in "the coming months."

RIM is rumored to have both a new touch-screen-based smartphone and a tablet device-potentially named the BlackPad-in the works. During the call, Balsillie confirmed that "two significant product additions" will be debuting later in the year; that the company has new platforms planned that are a "quantum leap" over anything currently in the market; and that the form factors for media consumption are "poised for redefinition."

"I just wish I could wind the clock forward a few weeks," Balsillie told participants on the call. "You'll say, 'I get it now.' When you see the pieces come together, you'll say, 'Now I see what they were doing.' And it is really powerful."

Despite Nielsen's ominous warning, RIM-thanks to its focus on smartphones, which Nielsen predicts will overtake feature phones by the end of 2011-performed well during the second quarter of 2010. According to a July 30 report from Strategy Analytics, RIM posted the highest year-on-year growth of any of the top-five vendors (RIM placed fourth on that list), shipping 11.2 million units during the quarter.

Still, report author Neil Mawston described RIM as feeling pressure from Apple and Android handsets. This may turn around with the launch of the BlackBerry 6 OS, Mawston added, which is "sorely needed to improve [RIM's] outlook in North America."