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BlackBerry's lead over Apple iPhone won't last

RIM's BlackBerry Curve has moved past the Apple iPhone to become the top-selling consumer smartphone in the US in the first quarter of 2009, according to market researcher The NPD Group.

The iPhone 3G fell to second place, as Apple's consumer smartphone market share dropped 10 percent. Two more BlackBerry phones, the BlackBerry Storm and BlackBerry Pearl, held the third and fourth spots respectively. And the Android-based T-Mobile G1 made an impressive fifth-place showing. Palm, which is expected to roll out its hyped-up Pre phone later this month, also suffered a 10 percent drop in market share.

Things certainly look rosy for RIM and its popular BlackBerry series. But it's doubtful that the Curve, including all the 83xx models, will continue to outsell the iPhone.

Here's why

The BlackBerry's impressive Q1 sales got a huge boost from Verizon Wireless's consumer-friendly "buy-one-get-one" BlackBerry promotion, as well as its heavy marketing of the iPhone-like BlackBerry Storm, which is selling like hotcakes despite tepid and occasionally hostile reviews from the tech press.

T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve 8900 review

Verizon certainly won't continue its costly two-for-one giveaway forever, which should result in a slide in Curve sales. As for the relatively new Storm, its popularity will ultimately be determined by consumer word of mouth. If everyday users agree with the pros that the Storm doesn't cut it, sales will fall.

But why did iPhone sales fall 10 percent? Rumours of a new and improved iPhone have been circulating for months, and it's likely that potential buyers are sitting on the fence to see what Apple rolls out this summer. When the new iPhone launches and the Apple marketing machine kicks into high gear, iPhone sales will certainly pick up.

Apple iPhone 3G review

Another competitive advantage for the BlackBerry is its availability on all four US wireless carriers, according to Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at The NPD Group. Of course, we all know the iPhone is currently limited to AT&T Wireless. But reports say Apple may be cooking up a deal to bring the iPhone to Verizon Wireless too. If that comes to pass, iPhone sales should get another big boost.

Finally, the Palm Pre will certainly steal sales from RIM and Apple. But I suspect its physical keyboard will appeal more to customers who were leaning toward the BlackBerry Curve. We'll soon know for sure.

See also:

Why RIM BlackBerry is better than Apple iPhone

Analysis: why Google Android is set to fail

Jeff Bertolucci blogs for PC World

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