One of the most common bear arguments on RIM over the last couple of years has been that the BlackBerry brand would lose momentum in the US market. Unquestionably, this has proven to be true. ComScore's latest results show that RIM has 6.5% of the US mobile phone market. This is down sequentially from 7.1%. For comparison, Apple has 11.2% and Samsung dominates with 25.6%.
I will point out the obvious - these are not percentages of the smartphone market, they are percentages of the total mobile phone market. I don't really care to look at smartphone percentages because we're getting to the point where all phones are smart, and it's really about the death of the dumb phone nowadays.
Although RIM and Apple only make smartphones, Samsung still makes a ton of feature phones, so their 25.6% share is due, in large part, to the millions of feature phones they sell, not just Android. Samsung may or may not succeed in migrating its feature phone customers over to its own brand of smartphones. My bet is that feature phone customers aren't thinking about brand loyalty too much when they migrate to a smartphone. They're thinking about what platform they want to be on.
The investment community is worried that a decline in the US market share is simply a leading indicator of a global decline of the BlackBerry brand. So does that argument hold water?
Maybe and maybe not. I don't think it's fair to draw any conclusions quite yet. It all depends on RIM's execution in getting BlackBerry 10 OS out the door with awesome hardware to back it up, and an improved ecosystem including stronger developer support. Give me Skype already!
Nokia successfully grew for a long time without any significant presence in the US at all. In fact only now are they showing some signs of potential recovery stateside after adopting Windows Phone and producing some pretty nice hardware to run it.
So is it possible for RIM to keep growing its user base internationally despite having poor performance in the US? I don't have my Magic 8 Ball handy to give me the official correct answer, but I think Nokia's experience with Symbian in the pre-smartphone world shows that succeeding in the US is not a pre-requisite for succeeding internationally.
Obviously using Nokia as a case study isn't perfect. Things have changed. A few leading platforms have evolved. Apple and Android are dominating in terms of units sold. Instead of being a world where people bought phones, we're now in a world where people think about the ecosystem around the phone. They think about what platform their friends are on, or what their employer supports.
I'll often refer to Google Trends when I want to check out global demand for brands. BlackBerry still seems to be doing well in a lot of markets around the world including the UK, Latin America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.
I personally feel that we need to see RIM maintain its strength internationally to feel good about its future. If it can hold onto its international strength, why shouldn't it be able to make a decent comeback in the US?
Let's rock and roll this ...