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Summary:

Having followed activity in the BlackBerry ecosystem over the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that BlackBerry Storm should be called BlackBerry Stealth. Why? With little media coverage, its forthcoming launch is the sleeper play in the smartphone market; it is poised to make major market penetration on its launch later this fall.

Having followed activity in the BlackBerry ecosystem over the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that BlackBerry Storm should be called BlackBerry Stealth. Why? With little media coverage, its forthcoming launch is the sleeper play in the smartphone market; it is poised to make major market penetration on its launch later this fall. Let’s look at the reasons:

The carriers: BlackBerry Storm was designed for two major carriers, with proven 3G network performance, who aren’t able to carry the iPhone: Verizon and Vodafone (also coming to Canada on Telus and Bell). This opens up access to several large existing customer bases (70 million at Verizon) with strong presence in both consumer and enterprise markets. For roaming outside North America, the Storm for Verizon/Bell/Telus includes the appropriate European/Asian-supported GSM bands.

A smarter touch screen: It employs new “haptic” touch keyboard technology with three keyboard options: QWERTY in landscape mode, SureType and Traditional 12-key in Portrait mode. Kevin Michaluk’s “First Impressions” review talks about his user experience with the keyboard and its unique features. One example: Hover on a letter and you’ll get other language options for the letter such as “é”. This YouTube video demonstrates the dynamic nature of the Storm’s keyboard.

Enterprise ready: IT managers already supporting BlackBerry within their IT infrastructure will readily accept the Storm as simply one more BlackBerry device. There is a legion of stories building about IT managers’ refusal of employee requests for iPhone support. With its multimedia features, including syncing to iTunes, Storm presents an opportunity to have a touchscreen smartphone that easily meets both business and personal needs.

A BlackBerry App Store is coming: Last week, RIM held its first BlackBerry Developer Conference, at which the 700 attendees learned about the BlackBerry App Store opening March 2009. Unlike Android Market, struggling to get to 100 applications, there currently exist more than 4,000 applications available via various web-based stores. The BlackBerry App Store makes it much easier to purchase applications directly off the device, both existing apps, as well as new ones that will appear as a result of developer support announced during the conference. Some developers will be backed by the $150 million BlackBerry Partners Fund.

Major general-purpose applications appearing for BlackBerry: Several applications I have been using on a Nokia N95 are now becoming available for the BlackBerry. Last week, I saw a demonstration of SlingPlayer for BlackBerry (still in pre-alpha, not yet released) on a Bold. Yesterday, there were two announcements: an alpha release of the popular “live-to-Internet” video recording application Qik became available and Truphone Anywhere for BlackBerry became available.

Background processing: While the Storm brings a different user interface, its underlying operating system is still the traditional BlackBerry O/S. I have been using a Bold for the past eight weeks and an iPhone for about three months. One key differentiator is BlackBerry’s ability to handle true background processing of data-based applications. For instance, you can run IM applications, such as Skype IM, via iSkoot, in the background, keeping you up-to-date on IM messages in real time while performing other data applications such as web browsing or checking your email concurrently. On the iPhone, you can make voice calls and play iTunes while looking at an application; otherwise, applications stop running until you return to it. Full background processing on the Storm, as on all recent Blackberry models, not only brings a significant productivity benefit to users but also allows notification and delivery of time sensitive information in real time.

What does it lack? Wi-Fi support. Probably because Verizon does not support UMA/GAN. Yet Wi-Fi is becoming important for creating additional access points in places such as warehouses or high rise buildings, where cell phone signals can become too weak.

Bottom line: Combining the Storm’s feature set and its carrier customer base, along with AT&T’s forthcoming Nov. 4 launch of Bold, BlackBerry Storm is lining up to be the “stealth” contributor to sustaining BlackBerry in its smartphone market leadership position, with a low-key, performance-based approach to the market.

Disclosure: The author has held a minuscule number of RIM shares since 1998.

  1. It’s quite ironic that the iPhone is based on the very powerful MacOS X but Apple has hobbled it so much that it has PalmOS / Windows 3.1 levels of multi-tasking – in fact even my old Treo has apps that can do activities in background, although not very seamlessly.

    One correction: Vodafone uses GSM and UMTS 3G almost everywhere in the world, so it could quite easily sell the iPhone given an agreement with Apple. Perhaps you meant Verizon Wireless which is part owned by Vodafone which is the only operating company in Vodafone group that uses CDMA-based 3G?

    By the way, one little appreciated benefit of UMA/GAN is battery life: when you are within WiFi coverage, you can turn off the GSM/UMTS radio, and vice versa when out of WiFi range, which makes a huge difference. At least according to this blog from a UMA vendor: http://umatoday.blogspot.com/2008/05/wi-fi-battery-life-uma-wins-again.html. It would be good to see a story about WiFi hotspots vs. 3G femtocells as ways of providing indoor coverage, particularly in areas of poor 2G/3G coverage.

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  2. It’s not the wireless protocol that is the issue with Vodafone; they were the jilted party in its bid to carry iPhone in its markets outside the U.S. Apple wants one exclusive carrier in each market. So it is the entire Vodafone ecosystem that needs a counter-offering to the iPhone.

    Note that there are two different Storms; from the official RIM press release: “Storm 9530 gives Verizon Wireless customers 3G EV-DO Rev. A/CDMA technology – and (2100Mhz) UMTS/HSPA and quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM for global use. The BlackBerry Storm 9500 from Vodafone supports (2100Mhz) UMTS/HSPA and quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM networks”.

    What’s interesting out of these two models is that, as stated in the post, Verizon/Bell/Telus customers can roam worldwide using Vodafone or any other GSM network while Vodafone customers will have to use a GSM network (and a 2G one at that) when roaming in North America where 3G UMTS/HSPA networks run at 850/1900 MHz.

    In Canada Apple only had one GSM carrier with whom to negotiate: Rogers who, at the time of the negotiations, had very high cost data plans. Rogers was looking to offer new data plans with slightly lower rates. However, three days before what was looking to be a badly botched launch, the popularity of the iPhone and protests caused Rogers to revise their data plan to something much more reasonable and realistic for a complete iPhone user experience. The side benefit for Canadians was that Rogers also had to reduce pricing on data plans for Blackberry Bold and Nokia N95 8GB at the same time in the interest of not appearing obviously biased to one vendor. On a per MB basis the new plans are about 4% of the cost of the previous plans for Blackberry and N95 8GB.

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  3. Very informative article. Would be great to see it compared to the Android phone also. For example whether the Android will run applications in the background? Also, will it be made available for other networks in the UK?

    As helpful as this article is, choosing your handset and network seem now to be restricting our choice. I have 10 months left of a Friends and Family Contract on T-Mobile.

    I guess we have no choice but to replace our Blackberry Curves with another (faulty) Curve, or the Android phone. Shame, really wanted to get my hands on the BB Storm. Understandable, however, that handsets are now core USPs on which the various Networks compete for custom. Great to see RIM competing against a beloved (brilliant) Apple and a Disruptive Google.

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  4. [...] read with some interest this article from Gigaom about the Blackberry Storm. As you may know the Blackberry Storm is Research in Motion’s [...]

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  5. @Pavan Thanks for the complement. Unfortunately Android has not made it into the Canadian market. Supposedly it does have a multi-processing capability or else iSkoot would not have written their app for it. However, it appears that iSkoot for Android was not really ready at the launch time last week. I run iSkoot for BlackBerry routinely on the Bold when away from my home office and do not have any of the issues that Andy, who has had great experiences with iSkoot on the Skypephone in the U.K., has encountered on the Android.

    The rumored Blackberry Javelin/8900 may relieve your Curve woes at T-Mobile. But that is a product yet to be officially announced. Unfortunately, with the 8xxx numbering, it seems that it will only be a GSM/EDGE product. On the other hand I know of one person who dropped a T-Mobile SIM into a Bold and it worked, including the UMA/GAN feature that drives T-Mobile @ Home. But that was probably an unlocked Bold obtained at the Developer Conference last week.

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  6. No WiFi alone is a deal killer. The Storm also lacks multi-touch and that keyboard has only one big button and no smart word suggestions. This will sell to the people on Verizon that will not switch to AT&T in the US for now who will soon discover it is not an iPhone killer. With almost 6,000 apps in the App store and iPhone 2.2 in beta the game is long from being won by RIM who’s stock is dropping like a rock!

    I think Windows Mobile will lose more to this than the iPhone or Android G1. RIM has a long way to go in the app department and creating better tools for developers. Both the iPhone and Android will well be ahead in this area.

    You mentioned SlingPlayer for the Blackberry. This has been promised for a long time as most other products from Sling it will take FOUR times longer than they promised and not work too well when it delivers! SlingCatcher for example. Also Sling is eyeing the 10 million plus iPhone users so this will not be exclusive to Blackberry. I have run SlingPlayer on Windows Mobile and I do not know anybody who bought a Windows Mobile phone for SlingPlayer!

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  7. “iPhone killer” has become such a meme these days. I think we all agreed to keep it out of writing a few months ago but now to post it in a headline? Sheesh.

    Keyboard: Smarter? Really? How about full multi-touch support? How about sensitivity? The Storm’s screen does not match the fluidity of the iPhone’s and this is seen in photo browsing, e-mail scrolling and most importantly in the browser. “Hover on a letter and you’ll get other language options for the letter such as “é”.” Have you tried this on an iPhone? Because it does it too…

    Browser: You didn’t even touch on this. Although the Bold and Storm’s browser has been greatly improved over the previous versions, it still pales in comparison to the usability and interoperability of Mobile Safari. The browser is the main reason I love my iPhone.

    App Store: Sure there are a few decent BlackBerry apps out there, but it is simply not as easy a development environment as Android or the iPhone. I have a feeling RIM’s development tools will be very lacking also.

    Honestly, I look forward to the Storm as RIM’s first entrant into the touchscreen market. But an iPhone killer? I hardly think so. Even just based on distribution… the iPhone is currently available in 57 countries with 23 more to come.

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  8. If the Storm has the same crap browser as the Blackberry 8820 I use everyday, they might as well call it the ‘Blackberry Tempest in a Teapot’.

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  9. [...] Jim Courtney (writing on GigaOm) suggests the Blackberry Storm is an iPhone and G-1 killer. He suggests the Storm be called the [...]

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