On Saturday, I walked up to the Austin Convention Center and noticed a lovely Canadian flag draped over the Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse across the street. Bummed over missing that evening's "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcast, I wondered if, for some strange reason, "Fogo" was doing something around hockey at "South by" ( I am so hipster cool!).
But no! It was the artist formerly known as RIM, Blackberry, hosting a private party.
I'm practically Canadian. I love God's Country. I love hockey. And, despite how hard I have been on RIM ( they'll always be RIM to me!) over the last two years, part of me wants to see them succeed. It must just be an honorary sense of national pride for a Toronto Maple Leafs-loving kid seeded and sprouted in Niagara Falls, N.Y. to a Canadian-born father just a stone's throw from Waterloo, Ontario.So, I'm sympathetic, but, man, seems like a poor marketing move. Americans do not associate technology, smartphones, apps or anything hip with Canada. Tragically, that's just how it is. Hurts me to admit it. That strategic decision aside (and there's probably a good reason for it), I can't believe I'm saying this, but Blackberry looks like it's on the right track. Here's my thinking. comScore reported U.S. January 2013 smartphone market share numbers earlier this month with few surprises. Apple (AAPL - Get Report) has a 37.8% share of domestic smartphone subscribers. Samsung comes in second at 21.4% and then there's everybody else. Google's (GOOG) Android remains the dominant platform at 52.3% ( *Asterisk); Apple's iOS pulls 37.8% at No. 2. After that, it gets interesting. Blackberry ranks as the third most popular OS in the States at 5.9%. It lost 1.9% worth of market share quarter-over-quarter. Here's where Steve Ballmer comes in. And it's not good. Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) share of the market, via its Windows Phone platform, dropped from 3.2 to 3.1% over the same period. It's no shocker that RIM continues to lose market share. It's still feeling the pain of not having current/relevant products to offer. But that will change soon. And if the Blackberry Z10 is to be a success we'll start seeing the trend turn sometime in the second half of 2013 I suspect. But how does Microsoft's market share stay flat as Blackberry's steadily decreases? You'd think at least some former Blackberry owners would move to a Windows-based smartphone. Android also lost market share, but iOS gained roughly 3.5%. So, we're to believe a.) that everybody switched to an iPhone during the quarter (plausible I guess) and b.) the supposedly well-received Nokia (NOK) Lumia didn't accomplish a damn thing for Microsoft? From there, I think to myself, if the standard American consumer opts to not go with an Android or iOS device, they're left, for all intents and purposes, to choose between a Windows Phone or Blackberry. Which would you choose? I think it's a no brainer. There's about zero reason to go with a Windows Phone. And we have Steve Ballmer and Microsoft's marketing team to blame. Together they have done an awful job marketing the Windows ecosystem. How many people on the street actually know that Microsoft makes Xbox? Very small percentage I bet. If I'm at Microsoft I commission a real and reliable study to find out. Because there's no connection between the various components of the ecosystem. In fact, it's a stretch to even call Windows an ecosystem. It's the default OS for many on the desktop and it's a suite of productivity applications, again, on the desktop. There's no halo effect happening at Microsoft. That begs the tired old question: How in the hell does Steve Ballmer keep his job? If you're looking for a strong No. 3 in mobile operating systems, it's clearly Blackberry. They can play the underdog. They're spending a ton of money on marketing. They're all over SXSW. They have a house and spiffy mobile van here. They're showing off their phones. They continue to woo developers and pitch the media. And through their horribly pathetic implosion, one thing remained constant. RIM ( sorry) made (and makes) good hardware. That's one thing I never knocked. In fact, I owned a Blackberry for quite some time. And, let us not forget, as Research in Motion, Blackberry started the smartphone craze. Focused on messaging and business use, yes, but, no doubt, they paved the way for Apple, who went on to flat embarrass RIM's founders. If there's an opening to become the No. 3 mobile OS in the U.S. with double-digit market share, Blackberry is executing its way to that opportunity. At Microsoft, the same old underachievement under Ballmer rolls on. Follow @rocco_thestreet -- Written by Rocco Pendola in Austin, Texas