In many respects, this is going to be an important week for Research in Motion and the BlackBerry. Facing increased competition from Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, the BlackBerry is being viewed as vulnerable and in jeopardy of losing its status as one of the world’s leading smartphones.

While the BlackBerry has maintained its strength in the corporate marketplace that values its rock-solid email and voice service, the BlackBerry’s consumer foothold is, at best, modest despite efforts to pimp its look and features.

The reality is the iPhone is sexy; the BlackBerry is your father’s smartphone.

This week, RIM is expected to unveil its new OS 6.0, which could include a Web browser that actually works. There’s also speculation RIM could unveil plans for a tablet computer to compete against the iPad.

In the midst of BlackBerry’s challenges, an interesting trend is how the device has gained a foothold with younger consumers. While they are not totally thrilled with the BlackBerry brand given its corporate roots, they like using it because the QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to use text-messaging and social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. If you take a look at younger consumers, the BlackBerry seems to be alive and well.

Given this foothold, maybe a logical strategic direction for RIM is pushing to become the social media smartphone. Rather than trying to out-Apple Apple, RIM should tightly integrate Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. so they become a seamless part of the BlackBerry experience.

If RIM makes social media on the BlackBerry so user-friendly and intuitive, it might be able to capture more of the youth market to counter the iPhone’s appeal to the geeks and cool kids.

At the same time, RIM should embrace an Open API system, and encourage developers to create applications to make the BlackBerry even more social.

There’s no doubt this would be a bold step in a new direction for RIM but if can become the “social smartphone”, it would be a terrific way to complement its strength in the corporate market.