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Android dominates BlackBerry on Verizon

by Phil Hornshaw

Things haven’t been looking good for Research In Motion (RIMM) and its BlackBerry in the last few months and years. The company was once a force so powerful its signature smart phone was often referred to as “CrackBerry” for its addictive nature -- every so often a journalist would do a story in which he or she tried to go a few days, weeks or months without using one, documenting the inevitable separation-driven nervous breakdown that followed.

That seems a little absurd now.

All Things D published a story on Dec. 10 that showed just how absurd. Using numbers for Verizon Wireless’ mobile, it shows that 80 percent of the smart phones with Verizon (VZ) contracts are running Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system -- leaving only 20 percent to be BlackBerrys. In fact, 40 percent of those Android phones are Motorola (MOT) Droids.

That’s a pretty huge development. The story points out that as early as 2008, BlackBerry was using Verizon as part of its advertising scheme, touting its phones were the best the carrier had to offer. Now, RIM is sliding fast down a slippery slope toward obscurity, unless the company does something to slow or stop its descent. As the All Things D story points out, there’s another scary prospect: if the iPhone shows up to compete on Verizon next year as some believe it will, what’s going to happen to BlackBerry sales then?

RIM already facing trouble... and more to come?

There’s worse news, although it’s old news: RIM is already losing to Apple when it comes to money made selling phones. It makes sense that Android phones might be outpacing BlackBerrys -- although at a rate of 5 to 1, that’s pretty remarkable -- but we found out in October that Apple (AAPL) had surpassed RIM to become the No. 4 smart phone manufacturer in the world.

RIM doesn’t need a miracle just yet, but it might pretty soon. So one direction it’s throwing a lot of its attention is the tablet market, where competition is growing more fierce by the month. The BlackBerry PlayBook looks to be a pretty big contender when it launches next year, with a lot of power behind it -- a 1 GHz dual-core processor and a gigabyte of RAM, for starters. The tablet also has a forward-facing camera like the iPad, but a smaller, 7-inch screen like Samsung’s (005930.KS) Galaxy Tab.

In the last two weeks, RIM has confirmed some more information for PlayBook: eventually, it’ll support a 4G cellular data connection, according to TechCrunch; and it’ll definitely be available in Wi-Fi and 3G versions like the iPad when it’s released in the early part of 2011 in the U.S. and in the summer internationally, as per a report from Engadget.

RIM also recently acquired software creator The Astonishing Tribe, hoping to bring some cool user interface magic to PlayBook, among other products. Having some powerful software in the tab’s corner certainly couldn’t hurt.

The unlucky part for RIM is that it seems PlayBook will be coming up against the rumored release of the extremely rumor-shrouded iPad 2 from Apple. There has been all kinds of unsubstantiated information flying around about the follow up to the iPad, but one thing’s for sure: if PlayBook comes out at about the same time, RIM is going to need some tricks up its sleeve to compete, based on the iPad’s recent sales numbers.

But if the PlayBook and the cool things it seems to be able to do are any indication, RIM’s not out of the game yet, by any stretch. There was a time the company was leading the smartphone and mobile computing charge, and if it can regain that momentum -- maybe even lean on its past and start reminding people that if you’re serious about mobile business, you should be using a BlackBerry -- it could shift the balance of power in the current mobile market. PlayBook seems like RIM’s first (or maybe last) big shot in its recovery, but we won’t know how far it flies until next year.