RIM BlackBerry Storm: Hot, Hot or Tempest in a Tea Pot?
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
Since its release last month, users of Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry Storm have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the device. Early Storm adopters either saw promise in the smartphone immediately, despite the poor quality OS code Verizon Wireless sold it with. Or they blasted the BlackBerry maker and cursed the carrier for shipping a smartphone that simply wasn’t ready for the masses. This week, conflicting news reports raise the question: Has the BlackBerry Storm been a success for RIM and Verizon or a slow failure?
According to some of these reports, BlackBerry Storm owners are returning to Verizon Wireless stores in droves to demand refunds or exchanges for their devices. The New York Times’ esteemed gadget reviewer David Pogue claims to have received “about 100” messages from readers who said they planned to return the Storm shortly after purchasing it. And some “extremely credible sources” told BoyGeniusReport.com that Verizon Storm return rates were as high as 35 percent to 50 percent.
But on the flip side, RIM’s co-CEO, Mike Lazaridis, spread the word via a company earnings call that the Storm is Verizon’s best-selling device to date, just a month after it went on sale. And both Verizon and Vodafone, which sells the Storm in the United Kingdom, deny all rumors of abnormal return rates. In fact, Verizon went on to say that the Storm has seen the lowest number of returns of any Verizon device “at this point in its life,” and that it has the lowest rate of return of any PDA the carrier sells.
New research from ChangeWave suggests that Storm owners aren’t overwhelmingly pleased or displeased with their new devices; roughly half of the 61 persons queried said they’re somewhat satisfied with the device, while 33 percent claimed to be very satisfied and 14 percent said they’re unsatisfied.
And good luck getting information from the carriers. Because Verizon hasn’t released actual device sales numbers—or returns, for that matter—it’s difficult to tell whether or not the BlackBerry Storm has been a success from a sheer sales perspective, though I imagine it has.
It’s clear that the decision to ship the Storm with BlackBerry handheld OS 18.104.22.168 was a poor one. Whether it’s RIM or Verizon Wireless that deserves the majority of the blame is another matter. (Verizon has since released a Storm update to 22.214.171.124, which is a vast improvement over the first official OS.) It’s likely that RIM promised the device to Verizon for a November 21 launch, but for whatever reason, the Storm wasn’t quite ready. I suspect Verizon wasn’t willing to issue a delay, and it decided to ship the Storm with very buggy code—happy customers be damned. (Again, this is just my personal opinion.)
So though the Storm may be a financial success for both RIM and Verizon—we really don’t know at this point–I’ve lost a bit of respect for both companies, especially Verizon. The decision to ship the Storm with a faulty OS shows a lack of respect for customers, even though a release delay would’ve also angered potential buyers. Personally, I’d have preferred to see the device delayed until the first week of December, when the Verizon Storm OS update was released, so we could’ve avoided the whole buggy-OS-mess.
From where I’m standing, the Storm has been great for RIM, if for no
other reason than the fact that it’s bringing consumer awareness of the BlackBerry brand to new heights—and Verizon looks like the one at fault in the whole Storm OS fiasco, whether or not that’s the reality. As for Verizon? I’m not so sure. While the device might translate into a healthy contribution to the carrier’s coffers, it has also taken a toll on the company’s reputation. And in the long run, brand image can be just as powerful as the mighty dollar.
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Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.