December 6, 2010, 3:24 PM

How important is BlackBerry to mobile commerce?

It’s not where the action’s at today, but a new acquisition may change the landscape.

Lead Photo

Research in Motion, which produces the BlackBerry, has acquired TAT in a move to enhance its smartphones.

Research in Motion’s BlackBerry device used to own the smartphone market. The clear majority of smartphones in use were BlackBerrys. But Apple Inc.’s iPhone and devices running the Android operating system have eaten away at BlackBerry’s market share. New data from comScore show BlackBerry down to 35.8%, with the iPhone at 24.6% and Android devices at 23.5%. The Nielsen Co., which surveys twice as many mobile consumers as comScore, paints a different picture: iPhone at 27.9%, BlackBerry at 27.4% and Android at 22.7%. Either way, BlackBerry continues to fall.

But it’s the nature of BlackBerry users that is more telling for retailers building mobile apps. BlackBerry users are generally businesspeople checking e-mail and updating their calendars and perhaps surfing the web a bit. On the other hand, iPhone and Android folk are enthusiastic users of mobile apps and the mobile web. Android and iPhone users aren’t harried businesspeople, they’re your typical consumer,  and many of them are ripe for retail apps.

And most important of all, look at your web logs: BlackBerry is not the leader among smartphones accessing your e-commerce or m-commerce site, is it? According to Christopher Mason, managing director at Branding Brand Communications, which builds mobile sites and apps, of the traffic he has seen coming to clients’ sites, BlackBerry only accounts for between 6-12% while Android is about 25% and the iPhone is in the 40s.

And, I am compelled to add, the BlackBerry is just not as sexy as the iPhone or some Android phones. In the smartphone world, sexy counts.

Let’s face it, the iPhone is king, Android is growing fast, BlackBerry is a fading star, and the others are bit players.

But wait. BlackBerry just purchased The Astonishing Tribe, also known as TAT. This Swedish company is responsible for an Android user interface.

“For those who don’t know, TAT is renowned for their innovative mobile user interface (UI) designs and has a long history of working with mobile and embedded technology,” David Yach, chief technology officer at RIM, wrote Thursday on the BlackBerry blog. “TAT focuses on delivering great user experiences, from a design, technology and usability perspective. Their design technology is used today in a variety of industries including the consumer electronics and automotive sectors.”

Has BlackBerry realized that its smartphones are just not as sexy as the iPhone or Android devices? Will BlackBerry come out with brand new designs that knock people’s socks off? Would such a move stop the bleeding at BlackBerry?

Yach seems to make it clear that BlackBerry will be juicing up its smartphone experience. But by the time BlackBerry gets a new smartphone with a new design and jazzy enhancements out, will it be too late? Will it have lost too many former BlackBerry loyalists to the iPhone and Android? The way things are looking right now, in a couple years the smartphone market will be utterly dominated by the iPhone and Android. Having a third major player, BlackBerry, would be healthy. Hopefully that will be the case, to avoid a monopoly and spur continued innovation.

When it comes to today, though, your best bet is to worry about the iPhone and Android. That’s where the action’s at. And that’s where you should be.

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