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RIM Still Blows Past Apple In Smartphone Unit Sales

You hear so much about the Apple (AAPL) iPhone that it's easy to lose perspective in terms of what the actual markets do. I know I've fallen into that trap, because some of the news from RIM (RIMM) about its last quarter was a bit startling: it sold 10.1 million devices in the quarter ending November 28, 2009.

That's a lot of phones and, interesting, a good deal more than Apple sold in the quarter ending September 26, 2009. In its 2009 Q4, Apple sent 7.4 million iPhones out the door. Now think about that. Yes, the iPhone has enjoyed enormous growth, but various versions of the BlackBerry outsold it by about 36.5 percent.

The really interesting view is over time. I've put together a table showing unit sales of both the BlackBerry and the iPhone over full quarters during which they were both available. The time lines don't match up perfectly because Apple and RIM have different fiscal year ends. What I'm doing is comparing the RIM quarter that ends one month before Apple's, rather than the next RIM quarter that ends two months after. In other words, I'm actually leaving out the most recent quarter's results.

Shifting to get as little time difference between quarters as possible, to minimize seasonal sales effects, is a more conservative approach and, if anything, underplays the patterns in the numbers. Look particularly at the data bars included with the data and the following pattern is pretty clear: over the long run, RIM is spanking Apple in unit sales over the long run and is seeing more consistent growth. Now, there's talk that Apple's going to have a huge quarter -- and given how consistently the company plays analysts by underestimating results that they can easily "beat," my guess is that through the holiday season, it will sell close to 11 million units. But that would include December sales missing from RIM's 10.1 million number because of that shift in quarter ends. And the jump between RIM's Q2 and Q3 in 2010 is pretty big.

Also, look at the sum of units over the full quarters in which both the iPhone and the BlackBerry have been available. Again, you can't accuse the iPhone of anything but success. However, Apple sold roughly 40 million units while RIM sold 53.4 million.

I suspect that Apple's entry into the market quickly expanded acceptability of carrying a smartphone, acting as a catalyst for market segment success. RIM ended up being even more of a recipient of the benefit. It's easy to get caught up in the chatter and hype and forget that eventually business success is measured in numbers. And at this point, RIM has significantly bigger ones than Apple.

Image courtesy Research in Motion Limited.

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