by Al Sacco

BlackBerry by the Numbers: 20 Percent of Users on OS 5.0; 17 Percent Pre-4.5

May 12, 2010
MobileSmall and Medium Business

Only 20 percent of BlackBerry owners, or 8.2M people, are running the latest BlackBerry OS while about 7M are using old software

Time for a quick game o’ BlackBerry by the Numbers.

Today I have some interesting data to share regarding the distribution of various versions of RIM’s BlackBerry OS among active BlackBerry smartphone users. These previously undisclosed numbers come to the Mobile WorkHorse blog from BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM), via one of my valued sources, who shall remain nameless. And they’re reportedly accurate as of April 30, 2010.

Roughly 41 million people across the globe are currently BlackBerry users, according to RIM’s Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, who recently spoke at the company’s annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in Orlando, Fla.

Of those 41 million users, about 20 percent, or 8.2 million users are running some iteration of RIM’s latest available BlackBerry OS, v5.0, according to the data. BlackBerry OS v5.0 currently ships with, or is officially available for, most of RIM’s new smartphones, including the BlackBerry Curve 85xx and 8900 devices, all four BlackBerry Storm 95xx models, the Tour 9630 and the Bold 9000 and 9700 smartphones.

However, just because BlackBerry OS 5.0 is available, that doesn’t mean all users have upgraded. For example, about three percent of BlackBerry users, or more than a million users, are still running OS v4.7 on their BlackBerry Storm 9500/9530 devices. And more than 1.6 million BlackBerry Tour users, roughly 4 percent of all BlackBerry users, are still running OS 4.7.1, according to the data.

It’s no surprise to see BlackBerry OS 4.5 as the most commonly used BlackBerry software version, with 27 percent of all BlackBerry users, or about 11 million people, since it’s the OS that runs on the most device models, including most of RIM’s uber-popular Curve 83xx smartphones.

Other noteworthy data points include the fact that about 17 percent of all BlackBerry users are still running a version of the BlackBerry OS lower than v4.5. That means that nearly seven million BlackBerry users are running what is now an “antiquated” OS, which only provides a fraction of the features and functionality packed into RIM’s latest OS builds. In fact, pre-BlackBerry-OS 4.5 builds don’t even support HTML e-mail rendering. (BlackBerry OS 4.5 was officially released back in 2008.)

Check out the above chart for a visual breakdown of the data, including specific percentages of users on additional BlackBerry OS versions.

To me, these metrics highlight a growing problem RIM’s currently attempting to address by providing an OS 5.0 build for all “new” devices: OS version fragmentation. With so many different OS builds, many with different features and functionality and even unique menu layouts and navigation elements, it can be particularly difficult for BES administrators and end-users to find device and software information or resolve issues, since one particular OS build isn’t necessary the same as any other.

The problem will presumably be alleviated by BlackBerry 6, RIM’s next major OS overhaul, expected this year, but that new software won’t likely solve the problem, since RIM will probably still release a handful of BlackBerry 6 versions for different device models.