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iPhone, BlackBerry Storm to Square Off in 2009

Apple iPhone and BlackBerry Storm

The smartphone fight of 2009 will pit Apple's iPhone against Research in Motion's Blackberry Storm as the handset makers duke it out for control of a market that shows little sign of weakness despite a turbulent economy.

A ChangeWave Research survey released today concludes that RIM, a tenured enterprise smartphone player that's also made big inroads into the consumer market, has momentum with the Storm and other devices that could pose a big challenge to Apple's 18-month-old competitor.

ChangeWave said that RIM remains the overall leader in consumer smartphones, with 41 percent of the market. But its seen its share of the space slide 1 percent since September, while Apple continues enjoying tremendous growth.

During the same period, Apple's share of the market grew 6 percent to 23 percent. That continued a trend of strong sales for the iPhone, which more than doubled its share of the market during the past six months, ChangeWave said.

Yet RIM may be poised to retake lost ground, the research firm said.

"While RIM sales momentum has been sluggish in recent quarters, its new BlackBerry product launches have unleashed a jump in consumer planned buying that suggests a full-scale battle with Apple for market supremacy in 2009," Paul Carton, ChangeWave's director of research, said in a statement.

The news comes as RIM and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) finish out a strong year. iPhone fans drove the device to become one of the tech world's biggest success stories this year, and the device's App Store now hosts more than 10,000 downloadable applications.

Meanwhile, RIM continued its efforts to push into the consumer market, debuting several new devices that ultimately have won the company a sizable chunk of business from non-enterprise users. According to RIM, the consumer segment now represents 45 percent of its subscriber base.

"The ball has shifted back into BlackBerry’s court in the form of a big uptick in consumer interest which they can potentially capitalize on," Carton said, adding that the big question is whether BlackBerry products are strong enough to capitalize on the increased consumer interest.

That remains in doubt, however. The BlackBerry Storm faced early complaints -- specifically, criticism for its lack of a QWERTY keyboard and the shortcomings of its iPhone-like touchscreen.

But even the Storm reached its share of milestones. The device's Nov. 21 launch proved record-setting as it resulted in the company's biggest subscriber signup day in history.

Last week, RIM sought to follow that success with its new Curve 8320 handset, which features Wi-Fi and a more traditional BlackBerry design with a full QWERTY keyboard. The device also represents the smallest and lightest BlackBerry to date.

Battered by the Storm?

Yet ChangeWave said concerns still linger over whether RIM may be alienating some of its longtime loyal customer base by attempting to replicate the iPhone's recipe for success. The BlackBerry's most rabid users -- so-called "CrackBerry" addicts -- evidently found the Storm wasn't up to snuff, according to industry reviewers and observers.

In a survey of 3,803 mobile phone owners during the first week of December, just weeks after the Storm’s initial release, ChangeWave found that early users' reactions to the BlackBerry Storm were lukewarm. Just one in three users said they were "very satisfied" with the device, the company said.

That's not only a dip compared to the 52 percent of traditional BlackBerry users who say they're typically "very satisfied" with their devices -- it's huge drop compared to the user satisfaction demonstrated by the iPhone's early users. According to ChangeWave, 77 percent of first-generation iPhone users were "very satisfied."

Additionally, only 7 percent of the iPhone's early users reported being unsatisfied with the device. In contrast, 14 percent of Storm users were unsatisfied, ChangeWave said.

"Simply put, the Storm satisfaction rating is similar to that of mid-tier smartphone manufacturers like Nokia, Motorola, HTC and Samsung," ChangeWave said in the survey. The company said that 32 percent of Nokia and Motorola users were satisfied, compared to 31 percent of HTC users and 30 percent of Samsung customers.

"While far from bad, it's mediocre -- which means it’s a potential concern regarding RIM's head-to-head battle with Apple," Carton added.

Additionally, the survey found that 4 percent of Storm buyers either have returned their device to the store or are very likely to do so. The research firm said competitive pressures may have caused the Storm to be launched before it was ready for prime time, but that RIM still has an opportunity to make good.

"If RIM can rapidly fix its initial glitches and bugs, the survey shows that this new offering -- along with RIM's other recently released models -- will provide accelerated momentum for RIM in 2009," Carton said.

Meanwhile, whoever wins the battle will win big.

While the smartphone market has slowed in growth, it's still expanding. A total of 12.2 percent of respondents plan on buying a smart phone over the next 90 days, a jump of 0.3 percent compared to a September survey, according to ChangeWave.

A new IDC study reports smartphone growth will be 8.9 percent in 2009, with growth returning to double-digit territory in 2010.

Smartphones remain a viable alternative to PCs for Internet use and interactivity for many consumers, according to IDC senior analyst Ramon Llama.

"Users have come to realize what these devices can do beyond voice telephony, especially when it comes to running applications," Llama said in a statement. "In response, handset vendors have been building their product and applications portfolios to catch this wave of opportunity."