Is BlackBerry crumbling against the iPhone?

According to RIM’s annual results the smartphone giant shipped ‘approximately 14 million smartphones during fiscal 2008 and shipped 4.4 million smartphones in the fourth quarter.’ It also added ‘approximately 2.18 million new BlackBerry subscriber accounts’. By my estimate that means 2.22 million existing BlackBerry subscribers upgraded their devices.

Now for some context: RIM’s annual statement notes that BlackBerry smartphones were available on over 270 networks in approximately 110 countries at the end of the fiscal year. By my calculation that’s an average of 52000 BlackBerrys sold per available network. On a country basis that’s an average of 127000 per country.

Let’s now look at the iPhone which is only just getting started — it has only been available since June 2007.

Apple sold 1389000 iPhones up till the end of September 2007 (remember they were only selling in the US) and then sold an additional 2315000 through December 31 2007. Up till Macworld Expo on January 15th Apple announced it had shipped a total of 4 million iPhones and by then they were available legally in the US UK Germany and France.

Apple has also publicly announced it intends to sell 10 million iPhones this calendar year. If it releases a 3G iPhone soon this is probably a low estimate because many carriers are extremely keen to give customers a reason to move from 2G to 3G due to the more efficient networks and customers will also find faster internet on the iPhone’s excellent browser appealing.

Based on these numbers Apple has sold 1 million iPhones per network per country (assuming they were available in all countries all the time) a number significantly higher than Blackberry.

Another statistic worth looking at is developer numbers. According to the RIM the BlackBerry JDE has been downloaded by more than 125000 registered developers since its inception (there was no information on how long it’s been available for) but the iPhoneSDK as a comparison was downloaded 100000 times in the first four days since its release.

Lastly anybody that has used both platforms (and that’s me) will hands down tell you BlackBerry is better at messaging. While one can get used to iPhone’s messaging system it’s not as fast or as easy as on the BlackBerry — largely because Apple runs a simple POP/IMAP client on the phone that downloads the full size emails and attempts to process them in the phone whereas Blackberry has a large and powerful server network in the background compressing and optimising emails for viewing on handhelds. Hopefully Apple’s announcements about Exchange support will remedy this issue.

But when it comes to ‘multimedia’ capabilities the BlackBerry is further behind than Apple is on messaging — a lot further behind.

Also while there’s been a lot of talk about the upcoming BlackBerry 9000 series the photos that have surfaced place it as ‘another’ BlackBerry with a skin-deep interface re-touch. Certainly not an iPhone killer. And you can be sure there will be 17 different versions of the 9000 you know the 9100 9101 9106 – you get the message.

My point: While BlackBerry may be going strong wait twelve months to see how they are holding up the fight to Apple. Also consider that this time next year the race between the most advanced smartphone operating systems will also be a three horse race with Google’s Android entering the fray.