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Why BlackBerry Storm Is An iPhone (and G-1) Killer

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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 (s VZ) 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.

83 Responses to “Why BlackBerry Storm Is An iPhone (and G-1) Killer”

  1. Due to recent (…and frequent) problems with my Blackberry 8830, I’ve contemplated switching over to the iPhone. After reading this, I will remain a die-hard Verizon customer and test out the Storm when it is released. Great article and easy to follow (especially for a non tech-savvy person such as myself).

  2. Blackberry need to improve
    1. New more models.
    Such as with Sliding keyboard.
    Touchscreen keyboard maybe OK for some people. but not for all. sliding keyboad is better.
    2. Add more internal memory.
    memory price are now so cheap. why not adding internal memory of 1-2GB. which can make the device more stable. and we can install some application without worry of the memory
    3. Add more open to the other developer. so more applications.
    This will make more user happy.

    and hear what user wants

  3. The Blackberry Storm looks very promising, but there is one aspect of the BB OS that severely hobbles it – apps can only be installed on the built in RAM. In the case of the Storm, all your apps have to fit inside 128MB (minus about 12MB of free RAM that is necessary for stability). You can have 16GB free on your MicroSD and its absolutely irrelevant since the SD card can only hold music, photos, and movies. On my 64MB Curve I find that I can install about 8-10 apps at most. This is one area where the iPhone is superior. I believe the default for the root partition where /apps resides is 300MB and if you jailbreak you can increase it to 800MB or more. That’s enough for a lot of apps.

  4. I see the Digg/Apple fanboys are on the prowl (as always.)

    As a former AT&T customer, I can see where an iPhone user might consider wifi a dealbreaker. Without that, your chances of consistent 3G coverage on AT&T’s network are negligible. On Verizon (or even Sprint for that matter), it’s MUCH less of a concern.

    As for the keyboard, I’ve heard enough rave reviews by sites that typically gush about the iPhone to believe the hype about the Storm’s keyboard. Just having ANY haptic feedback for touchscreens (as you get by default with Android, can enable on some WM sets, and have on numerous other 3rd party ‘dumb’ phones) is definitely better than NOT having it. And from what it sounds like, the Storms ‘clickable’ touchscreen takes that to another level. I’ll wait and judge for myself, but when you see enough tech reviewers talking emphatically about it after using it themselves there’s probably a little something to it (just like there was with the iPhone.)

  5. Interesting article, but the title gives the game away. Every time someone compares a new product to the iPhone, they are effectively providing Apple with additional free marketing. RIM made a very fine product – the Blackberry – long before Apple came along with the iPhone. They are still leaders in the Blackberry market (enterprise email, seamless link to your company’s Exchange, very wide installed user base and knowledge base), and there seems no real prospect of the iPhone really taking over their territory. In the iPhone’s territory, though, to be a true ‘iPhone killer’, you have to do what the iPhone actually does, either palpably better (which is always going to be a matter of opinion, given that it’s the user interface which is the iPhone’s real advantage) or as good but cheaper. As pointed out, the lack of Wifi makes this a non-iPhone killer. But, actually, the lack of any critical feature would do the same.
    The iPhone is not the same target it was when it originally came out. The key difference is not so much the 3G, but the App Store. iPhone apps integrate GPS with tilt, motion, touch, sound and vibration. This is a heady combination which has been explored so far more by games designers than by productivity apps, though a slew of GTD based apps are location aware. Suddenly, it’s no longer important (if it ever was) that the iPhone has a 2MP camera (though any photographer will tell you that more MP for same sensor size = more noise), because a lot of new apps are exploiting the camera as a device for gathering visual information, not for replacing your Nikon. One app for designers uses the camera to sample colours, and then tells you the Pantone equivalent, and enables you to email a complete palette to a colleague. This may be a niche application, but there are now so many applications that, whatever your niche, there is something for it.
    RIM makes superb products, but the real winner of the endless comparisons of new smartphones with the iPhone is Apple. As someone pointed out on CNET, the biggest drawback of owning a Zune is explaining to people why you don’t have an iPod.

  6. Jeff, thanks for the summary of features. Much appreciated. I do like the fact I can upgrade my 4GB microSD card to 8GB or 16GB when it gets full (only 4GB was available at retail when I bought the card; 8GB cards are now available).

    As for the WiFi comments: There is no CDMA network that supports UMA/GAN for a service such as [email protected] Since this was designed primarily for Verizon and they have had such a good 3G network experience, they did not ask for WiFi. But two points:

    1. With a 6GB per month cap on my iPhone and Bold accounts, I never get near those levels (in fact I still have trouble getting to 100MB in a month, partly because of the % of time I spend at a WiFi access point and I’m still trying to get any significant amount of video usage). Rogers reported that 90% of their iPhone users have <200MB per month usage; 95% have <250MB. With such usage levels Verizon’s legacy 3G robustness and coverage will satisfy most end users’ needs. And recall that most end users don’t care how they get the information as long as they get it in a timely manner and with a fixed cost. (Note that AT&T’s cap on their so-called “unlimited” iPhone data usage is actually 5GB per month.) So the key here is to find out what Verizon’s “unlimited” data cap will be.

    2. On the other hand some day Verizon may wake up to the fact that having WiFi support would actually reduce their requirements for infrastructure build-out, especially backhaul requirements and the associated capital costs. I am told it costs about $1MM to build a cell tower. That could subsidize a lot of WiFi access points (with the end user picking up the cost of a WiFi router). And, as mentioned, the end user frustration is poor coverage inside warehouses and high rise buildings. In fact, it would seem to me that their FIOS offering to consumers would have the backhaul capacity to handle a much larger data load.

  7. I welcome competition into the mobile phone market as it will drive innovation… but the keyboard in that video looks pretty weak. The iPhone keyboard with the predictive text is a beast. I can type probably 3x faster than whoever was in the demo and i’d rate myself as average when it comes to typing on teh iPhone.

  8. If the iPhone is so great why do you need to hack it for features commonly available in any basic phone?


    – 3D click-through screen (capacitive touch PLUS tactile click)
    – MMS
    – record videos
    – WMV support
    – WMA support
    – 3GPP RTSP website audio/video streaming
    – copy/paste via multitouch
    – better camera (3.2mp vs 2mp)
    – 2x digital camera zoom
    – camera autofocus & image stabilization
    – better screen resolution (480×360 vs 480×320 = 12%)
    – full QWERTY keyboard (PLUS SureType)
    – second mic for active noise cancellation
    – removable/replaceable battery
    – better battery life w/ 1400 mAhr (6.0hrs vs 5.0hrs)
    – replaceable metal backing (vs plastic, non-replaceable)
    – MicroSD memory card expandable up to 32GB
    – 10x hard buttons (4 front, 2 top, 4 side)
    – voice-command dialing
    – global phone (CDMA/EVDO.A/UMTS/HSPA/EDGE/GPRS/GSM)
    – true, lean email push w/ compression (vs battery draining ping-pong workaround)
    – Legendary RIM encryption and security (with remote management via BES or Unite)
    – syncronize contacts, tasks, memos, calendar with Yahoo! PIM, Outlook, Lotus Notes, Novell, etc
    – save attachments & send attachments from internal/media card memory
    – open PDF, DOC, XLS, PPT files
    – ability to use any music manager (vs iTunes only restriction)
    – high-speed PC modem via USB tethering
    – Assisted GPS for turn-by-turn navigation with third-party applications
    – mass storage mode (allows drag/drop of files via Windows Explorer)
    – BlueTooth 2.0 with stereo headset, A2DP/AVRCP audio streaming, file-sharing, wireless printing, etc
    – landscape charging dock for movie viewing (unverified)
    – better Verizon contracts and price plans
    – better network (Verizon EVDO Rev. A vs AT&T HSDPA scarce coverage and slower uploads)
    – open architecture app install (vs Apple collecting a buck for EVERYTHING you buy)

  9. WOW – It didn’t take long for the iphone apologists to chime in and call this ‘dumb’. I have an iphone and cannot wait for the BB storm.

    Wifi is NOT a ‘deal breaker’ – on the superior verizon network wifi will do nothing more than kill your battery. (A dead battery is something ANY iphone owner is VERY familiar with).

    Iphones are cute – I’ll give mine to my little sister once the storm is released.

  10. “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”.”

    You mean, just like iPhones already do? Neat, I guess.

  11. rickchatham

    You pointed out a few good features and how the Storm will breath some additional life into non-iPhone carriers, but you failed to prove how the Storm will kill the iPhone. Dumb title for a very mediocre article.

  12. Thanks for the info in your response Jim. Your response reflects your genuine interest. I guess the market (along with need for a decent querty keyboard) dictates that I get the Android, and wait until we can justify the iPhone, for testing and development purposes of course, not for that indescribably satisfying feeling of browsing around Safari.

    Apple have clearly raised the benchmark so high that everyone else (RIM, Google, Nokia) are struggling with the trade offs to achieve that Apple quality and consequent feel, despite their experience over Apple in the Mobile Market. Remarkable. If only I could type emails on an i-phone as fast as on the raised buttons on my BB Curve.

    If only the Storm had wi-fi. The choices are so limited, if you want an iPhone, you want an iPhone, I wander how many people switch networks, or like developers – take an extra contract over the next 10 months and run the iPhone alongside a wi-fi and Safari lacking Blackberry/…?

    @ Stephen – Well said, no wi-fi does kill the deal. We expect to be able browse the net on our phones with this next generation of mobile, in a way Apple have now made possible with the iPhone, without depending on having a Mobile signal indoors.

  13. the video of the person typing on this new blackberry goes to show that the keyboard in the iphone is much superior:

    the app store will be far behind in march when it comes out. these things get ingrained into consumers minds and can’t be erased. the iphone has the same choke-hold on the consumers mind as the ipod. this will be hard to change.

  14. honestly the iphone out of the box does have alot of stuff crippled but if your running one via jailbreak then MMS, video recording, cut/paste and background applications are all freely available.

    Not sure what Jobs rationale is on having those features disabled on stock iPhones but i’m hoping competition from the Storm and Android phones will force him to make some of them enabled

  15. Wow. What a worthless Blackberry promoting pile of steaming former vegetable and meat.

    Look, I hate the iphone as much as the next guy, but don’t you get it that what made it successful is 1) wifi and 2) web browsing. That is what people want. If they want email they get a bbery. If they want media they get an ipod. Without a web browser and a wifi chip, it is not a “iphone killer”. It looks like a nice enough phone that will appeal to some Verizon customers until 2010.

  16. Some feedback:

    As mentioned, there are over 4,000 Blackberry apps available at web-based stores, such as Handango and Next spring these will be available directly from the BlackBerry. And a Globe and Mail story today reports that over 3,000 developers have applied to the BlackBerry Partner Fund. The business savvy developers will develop for both iPhone and Bold (and, if they get going, Android).

    As for the browser, the Bold and Storm have a totally new browser which brings it much closer to the iPhone’s capability. (I’ve had a 8820 and can appreciate its limitations although the new OS 4.5 firmware upgrade improves on that. The carrier-specific upgrade is not yet available at all carriers; it recently became available for Rogers customers; others can check here.)

    The Bold’s browser is not there totally yet but it’s not preventing me from getting most of the information that I can also get from the iPhone’s browser. A recent Bold firmware upgrade made significant performance improvements; the display on the Bold itself is something you have to experience to see how “stunning” it is. I’m sure there are more OS upgrades, including browser, coming soon.

  17. No wi-fi alone is a no-go – and no, it’s NOT becuase cell coverage is weak but it’s because it’s more expensive to go online and get the most our of that big screen (d-uh!). Also, as a happy owner of a BB Curve, have some doubts about the apps, browser, media player – to name a few. I look forward to trying it (won’t upgrade though until they put wi-fi in v 2) but “iPhone killer”?!? Come on…

  18. I’d like to try that Haptic touchscreen – Apple could very well allow developers to use vibration to provide it.
    But i fail to see the “unique feature” like the international “accented” chars like “é” – the iPhone also has it.

    And please check your facts regarding Vodafone not having iPhones – I’ve always been a Vodafone customer and I do have an official Vodafone iPhone 3G here in Portugal.

    Just because Vodafone may not have it in the USA, it doesn’t mean they’re “unable” to carry it, and it actually offers iPhone in many (most?) European countries.

  19. “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.

  20. 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!

  21. @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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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: 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.