BlackBerry Storm. An Interesting Story

On Novem­ber 21st, 2008 Research In Motion ltd launched their Black­Berry Storm flag­ship product.

Accord­ing to what I can read RIM spent almost two years on this project in a ten­ta­tive to build a strong iPhone competitor.

I have been work­ing in the mobile phone ecosys­tem long enough to know that two years is not really a great amount of time to design and deliver an inno­v­a­tive piece of hard­ware and soft­ware. Nev­er­the­less it is not the most chal­leng­ing tim­ing I have ever seen on a mobile prhone pro­gram. It seems just a fair amount of time.

BlackBerry Storm
Black­Berry Storm

This is why I have been suprised to read two arti­cles from Engad­get and the Wall Street Journal:

It seems that RIM spent almost 100 mil­ions USD in the mar­ket­ing cam­paign for this device. This is quite rea­son­able since you want to com­pete with Apple and iPhone, and Christ­mas cam­paign is crit­i­cal for volumes.

As the Wall Street Jour­nal writes, “peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter say that the com­pany sold roughly 500.000 units in the first month”. Great, mis­sion accomplished.

Well, not really.

Peo­ple started to com­pain about buggy soft­ware and slug­gish perfomances.

RIM soon released a new ver­sion of the device soft­ware that solved some of the issues of the first com­mer­cial soft­ware but it seems that peo­ple still complain.

I think that the most impor­tant thing in the Wall Street Jour­nal arti­cle is what Mr Jim Bal­sil­lie, RIM co-​Chief Exec­u­tive, says about what happened:

the com­pa­nies made the cru­cial Black Fri­day dead­line “by the skin of their teeth,” after miss­ing a planned Octo­ber debut. Mr. Bal­sil­lie said such scram­bles — and the sub­se­quent soft­ware glitches that need to be fixed — are part of the “new real­ity” of mak­ing com­plex cell­phones in large vol­umes.

RIM has been famous for deliv­er­ing high qual­ity prod­ucts to the mar­ket and in the past we have not read many com­plaints about the qual­ity of their prod­ucts. They are also a big com­pany with a huge team of pro­fes­sion­als at every level of the organization.

I would say that what RIM has expe­ri­enced here is the clas­sic tran­si­tion from key­board to touch. It’s a mind shift for every mobile phone man­u­fac­turer. It is def­i­nitely a hard task to design, develop, test and deliver a com­pletely new touch User Inter­face and User Expe­ri­ence. Touch based devices are a totally dif­fer­ent ball game com­pared to key based devices, and a much tougher one.

Maybe RIM has made some mis­takes and has prob­a­bly been too keen to accept defects to be included in a com­mer­cial soft­ware build but I am sure they have done their best.

Sure, we may have the sus­pect that the approach “Deliver and we’ll fix that later” has been used here.

I am a sur­prised to hear a CEO say­ing that this approach is the “new real­ity”. A many of us may know this is not some­thing new but it some­thing you are not will­ing to say to your cus­tomers. I under­stand that RIM gave exclu­siv­ity on the device to many oper­a­tors world­wide and that they had to meet dead­lines and com­mit­ment with them. But, at least, “keep the secrete” and put in place a recov­ery plan in the form of a soft­ware main­te­nance release. This is not new prac­tice in the industry.

The main ques­tion to answer is “Why did Mr Bal­sil­lie said that?”. I do not have the answer.

As a last con­sid­er­a­tion I would say, based on my own per­sonal expe­ri­ence on the field, that the per­cep­tion of usabil­ity in a touch device is much more sub­jec­tive that in key­board based phones. The truth is prob­a­bly in the middle.

[Update — Jan­u­ary 28th]

I read from gad​get​son​thego​.net that Ver­i­zon has just announced 1 mil­lion Black­Berry Storm sold from the offi­cial launch to date. At some degree this can­not bee defined as a “bumpy start”.

  • Steven Leung

    There was a recent arti­cle, I think it was from CNet, about the return rate on the BB Storms. They may have sold a lot of units, but the num­ber they get back is higher than indus­try average.

    Inno­va­tion needs exe­cu­tion, and there are a few exec­u­tives at BB who might need that too.

  • dot­dust

    I agree with what you write.

    Depend­ing on man­u­fac­turer and prod­uct the indus­try accepted return rate may vary from 1% to 3%.

    In this case if we look at the issues that cus­tomers had with the prod­uct soft­ware and the return rate that seems to be high we can say that exe­cu­tion has not been brilliant.

    As a more gen­eral con­sid­er­a­tion I can say that many man­u­fac­turer have low­ered their qual­ity stan­dards in recent time and that is def­i­nitely a very bad sign.

  • PDA is smartphone?

    Inno­va­tion is the answer… Every ven­dor has a push email tech­nol­ogy. RIm should con­sider this

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