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As Blackberry Loses Ground, Will African-Americans Shift Too?

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Even President Obama, one of the most noted public figures with a RIM device, adds Apple to his repertoire

By Corey A. Washington –

RIM’s suite of Blackberry devices were once the smartphone of choice for African-Americans. It’s no secret that these once-highly successful smartphones boasted some of the best messaging features, putting the right amount of emphasis on text, chat and email access.

But things have inevitably changed with Blackberry now dethroned as the touted smartphone of choice as Apple and Android handsets take messaging features to a new level, coupled with multimedia features galore. Apple seems to have a chokehold on the tech media world, with the iPhone taking its spot as the new media darling among smartphones since its debut in 2007. And manufacturers such as HTC, Motorola and Samsung have released some of the most coveted Android handsets that rival the iPhone in features and hardware specs.

Analysis shows Research In Motion’s market share fell last year to 14 percent at the end of 2010. In 2009, the company held 21 percent of the market. At the end of the first quarter of this year, the company held steady with 14 percent.

African-Americans, however, were faithful through it all to Blackberry as the smartphone market began to evolve, but ownership has recently taken a dramatic drop. According to the Nielsen Company, African-American Blackberry owners have fallen from 38 percent in 2009 to 20 percent as of late 2010.

Much attention was paid to President Barack Obama and his Blackberry after he took office in 2009. While the President hasn’t ditched his Blackberry yet, various media sources have spotted him traveling with an iPad.

Arguably, Blackberry’s greatest appeal to African-American consumers had been the smartphone’s clean approach to messaging with enhanced options that don’t complicate its use. But how consumers communicate has quickly changed, which may have had a large impact on why Blackberry’s relevance among African-Americans is now in question.

Blackberry seemed to define the Qwerty keyboard among smartphones, with its claim to fame being its tactile keys, well-organized layout, and the infamous trackball to help navigate through the OS. But increasingly new smartphones incorporate -- if not fully utilize -- touch screens and capacitive touch buttons, which are in the minority of phones RIM produces.

RIM is still no slouch, even as it continues to grapple with showing the tech market it can change with last year's introduction of the Blackberry Torch, a hybrid of a touch screen and Qwerty keyboard, and the newly released PlayBook.

The key to RIM retaining its stronghold of African-American buyers may hinge on how well it balances the evolution of Blackberry phones with new messaging features while adopting the multimedia features attributed to pushing Apple and Android smartphones to the top.

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

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