This week when I was at Gartner Symposium 2011, an annual conference for enterprise IT leaders, I posted on Twitter that this event is a traditional stronghold of BlackBerry users so I was surprised to see that well over 50% of the attendees -- most of them wearing suits and ties -- were now carrying iPhones or Android devices.
This observation was reinforced on Thursday by the release of new research from Enterprise Management Associates. In companies with 10,000 or more users that currently use Research in Motion's BlackBerry, 30% of them plan to abandon it and switch to another platform in the next year.
"We expected to see some market share loss by RIM, but these results were far more dramatic than we could have anticipated," said Steve Brasen, EMA's managing research director.
The EMA currently puts BlackBerry market share at 52% in these organizations that have 10,000 or more users. The anticipated drop in 2012 would decrease that number to 36%.
I've said recently that BlackBerry is destined to shrink and evolve into a niche platform for high-security organizations such as governments and others with sensitive data concerns. However, BlackBerry's massive server outage earlier this month disrupted some users for days and brought BlackBerry's main value proposition into question since the company and its core users typically argue that security and reliability are the main reasons to stick with BlackBerry.
The platform is becoming almost completely abandoned by consumers because of its lack of software and the fact that it just isn't as easy to use as iPhone or Android since it makes you dig through lots of menus and preferences rather than just touching and swiping.
As Chris Duckett reported from BlackBerry DevCon this week, RIM announced its next generation operating system BBX, which is an amalgamation of BlackBerry OS 7 and the QNX OS that powers the BlackBerry PlayBook. As I noted in my BlackBerry PlayBook review, there's a lot to like about the performance of QNX but there just wasn't a whole lot to do with it because of the lack of software -- both from RIM itself and from third party developers.
RIM has two things it needs to do to shore up its base over the next year. First, it will have to improve the app situation significantly. That can be tough on a platform that is perceived as shrinking, but RIM's can play to its strengths by pitching app developers on the fact that they won't be drowned out by the crowd the way they are in the iOS and Android app stores. RIM can also take a page out of Microsoft's book from Windows Phone 7 and simply offer developers incentives to put apps on their platform.
Second, RIM will absolutely need to avoid any more big outages that will further erode trust in the platform's backend reliability among enterprise organizations. Still, if BlackBerry can do those things and continue to own 30% to 40% of the enterprise market, then the BlackBerry platform will survive. It will likely be a smaller, leaner RIM that runs it, but it could still be a solid business with a vocal niche community of loyal users.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).