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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.