A Rough Start for the Blackberry Storm

RIM's Newest Handset Hit by Squall of Bugs, Lukewarm Reviews

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- The Blackberry Storm is blowing a little colder. Amid chatter about glitches, reviews are piling in that suggest the first Blackberry touch-screen smartphone has a long way to go before it's anything world-class.
Blackberry Storm: Weathering negative criticism
Blackberry Storm: Weathering negative criticism

The bugs came to light even before the phone's Nov. 21 launch, and many reviews trickling in since then are tipping the negative scale. David Pogue of The New York Times called the handset a "Blackberry dud," citing glitches ranging from freeze-ups to abrupt reboots.

The PR setbacks have to be disappointing for Blackberry maker Research in Motion, and for Verizon Wireless, the phone's exclusive carrier, which put some $100 million behind the handset in the biggest product launch in its history.

Cutting into the hype
This "definitely cuts into the hype," said Douglas Soltys, editor in chief of BlackBerryCool.com, a news portal about everything Blackberry.

It's unclear how the companies are telling users how to resolve the problems. A Verizon spokesperson said the company had no comment, and a RIM spokesperson did not respond to calls or e-mails before deadline.

A representative at a Verizon retail store said some fixes are available over the air, while an analyst reviewing the phone said RIM's website has updates. However, the analyst called it a highly technical process, suggesting that was not the official venue for ordinary consumers looking for an easy fix.

Was Storm not ready?
Did RIM push the Storm out the door before it was ready? Certainly, pressure points were building to cash in on the popular consumer touch-screen smartphones: The holiday season was around the corner, and Apple was way ahead with its blockbuster iPhone. Moreover, RIM had already been panned for the delayed October launch of the Blackberry Bold.

Yet RIM, long known for its corporate workhorse handsets, showed every sign that it was ready to make a play for the consumer mass market. It appealed to a consumer's lifestyle in marketing its enterprise-flavored Blackberry Bold handset: "Connect to everything you love in life in a bold new way."

Although high-end smartphones are expected to arrive with some bugs, the Storm has seen more annoying glitches than some of the more recent smartphones that have hit the market, analysts say. And that's not in keeping with the Blackberry name known for reliability and security.

"RIM is a great brand and has consistently been well-received," said Bill Ho, an analyst at Current Analysis. "This is the first time they've taken big hits in the press."

Silent treatment
So far, Verizon and RIM's response appears to be silence in the hope all will blow over as the problems get sorted out in the new shipments while fixes are being made available.

"RIM and Verizon would not want to make a big deal out of this," Mr. Soltys said. "It's more of a sweep it under the rug. ... If asked, say 'Well, there were a few problems at launch, but we've taken care of it.'"

Mr. Soltys said the lesson here for RIM is to never let it happen again. "The half life of consumer products is too short nowadays, with the internet, for a 'patch later' mentality," he said.

Not a death sentence
Damage to sales is anyone's guess, but if history is any guide, glitches are not death sentences. The iPhone more than survived its buggy trial on the AT&T network this summer, but it did have some glowing reviews on its side.

But the Storm is no iPhone, garnering about a quarter of the volume of iPhone's online conversations, according to Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Online.

Mr. Blackshaw said the latest PR problems haven't killed the buzz, though "sentiment is good but not hyper-evangelistic."

"The key thing is for Blackberry to show real concern: to listen, resolve the issues, manage expectations and make sure customer service is dialed up," he said.
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