Analysis: Who is the BlackBerry Storm For?


Over the last year and a half, a few dozen…dozen would-be “iPhone-killers” have emerged to take on Apple’s little widescreen iPod/phone/Internet browsing device that could. And illustrious these phones have been, ranging from the underwhelming Samsung Instinct to the equally underwhelming LG Dare and even the moderately adequate HTC Touch Pro.

And now, as dynamic Verizon pitchman Mike Lanman proves in this eternal launch video, RIM is throwing its Canadian hat (it’s flannel, with ear-laps) into the ring with the puzzling BlackBerry Storm. You will be shocked to learn that this amazing phone will “Take the market by <cue thunderbolt> STORM!”

Except that it probably won’t make any impact on the iPhone market. And that’s because Apple created a platform and RIM is building a product. Click through to read why.

Based on the blurry, lo-fi video above, the Storm will be a lot like a BlackBerry, only with a touchscreen and no keyboard. As a BlackBerry Pearl user, I have to admit that this completely puzzles me. Who on earth would ever buy any phone from RIM that isn’t optimized for fast messaging with a real keyboard? BlackBerry is better at sending and receiving corporate e-mail and calendaring applications than any other platform on the market, but the counterbalance to this is that the BlackBerry OS leaves everything else as an afterthought. The previous generation of BlackBerries were horrible phones. The current generation uses a trackball that works well for scrolling through e-mail and is a disaster as a web browsing interface. Virtually ever application for BlackBerry looks like an e-mail inbox. The entire BlackBerry platform is premised on the following: Push mail service, intuitive reading interface, fast keyboard.

So why would the company ever launch a device that’s going to be bad for e-mail in addition to being bad at everything else? No matter how well RIM has figured out a touchscreen keyboard, it will still be a virtual keyboard, and they aren’t as reliable as a physical interface. Based on another video of the device that has since been taken down, RIM also focused so much on providing tactile feedback from its virtual keyboard that the entire screen has to be pressed like a button to register a click. This will be nothing like typing on a BlackBerry, and will be barely better than typing on an iPhone, if at all.

So the keyboard will be worse than a typical BlackBerry — a strike at RIM’s strengths. The rest of the OS is what’s going to really make this a loser of an iPhone competitor. That’s because instead of developing a new operating system from scratch that’s optimized for multitouch interactions, RIM has adapted BlackBerry OS for touch. Other than the bigger screen and touching, the interface looks the same as on the BlackBerry Bold. And that means lots of moving your thumb down to click the contextual menu button to find necessary features instead of having them appear on-screen, as they do in the iPhone. It also means having no effective way to return to the home screen, an essential feature on any pure touch phone. BlackBerry’s HTML browser is brand new and untested thus far.

But the greatest mistake RIM is making? By viewing the BlackBerry Storm as a new product in an existing product line, the company is setting itself up to offer only applications that are optimized for its other devices and that technically function on the Storm but aren’t tailored to its strengths. But focusing on creating a product that could compete with the iPhone, RIM has missed the larger opportunity to launch a new platform.

Because that’s the real secret of the iPhone: It’s not just a product, though it’s a beautiful one. It’s not just an operating system, though it has the best mobile OS on the market. It’s not just a media phone optimized for iTunes. It’s a platform for growth that can be built upon and expanded for years to come. The iPhone SDK is its secret competitive advantage — putting great design tools in the hands of the masses and letting innovation flow.

All of the also-rans, RIM included, don’t have a big enough perspective in their struggles to catch up with the iPhone. They’re all trying to match the feature set that Apple has today. Apple’s waiting for third-party developers to come up with the killer apps of the next five years.

This is one Storm that might only sprinkle.

Video via Engadget

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  • leigh

    Pete wrote:
    And that’s because Apple created a platform and RIM is building a product

    At the risk being a heretic, I would argue that’s because RIM created their platform a decade ago.

    Like it or not, for professional use, espcially in high security environments like government, or (yes I know it’s trite) mission critical corporate applications, RIM is the platform to beat.

    RIM is not “Catching up with iPhone” nor is iPhone catchng up with RIM any time soon (11% versus iPhone’s 7% in **sales** market share. actual usage market share is substantially higher for RIM as it’s been around for a lot longer).

    ~sent by my Blackberry wireless hand held~

  • likeabite

    Well said Leigh…and as a MAC site I would expect you to exult the iphone as the end all/be all device. However, for such a phone that you claim is what everyone is trying to become I do remember them stealing the complete touch idea from the LG Dare and announcing it first to get all the glory. Also WinMo phones and Palms have always had touch screen.

    Another thing is the fact that for having the best platform as you say, I wonder why it does not have a simple feature as copy and paste…or even MMS/Picture messaging when even flip phones have had it for at least 4 years. Let’s not even mention the fact that it cannot even record video. All of these just spells a backwards device Pete, not the groundbreaking unit you are so eloquently illustrating above.

    That said, how is a leading company like RIM, with 17% market share in the Smartphone market trying to play catchup or be like the iphone which only has about 7%? WinMo even has 12% so if you know your math the iphone is in essence playing catchup with the rest. I do agree that a lot of companies are releasing touch screen devices now because of the iphone but it was not their idea first and has never been their idea. They stole it from LG as well as MS since MS has had touchscreen devices and handhelds for at least 5 years now so get your facts straight. And how are you commenting on the OS/UI of a phone you’ve never used and then say who is it for when the article has nothing to do with the phone’s niche crowd but rather how it is just not the almighty iphone. Either change the title or learn your journalistic skills a little better sir.

About the author

Pete Mortensen

Pete Mortensen is a design strategist for consulting firm Jump Associates and the co-author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, a book and blog that are significantly more interesting than you might initially think. Pete's particular Apple avocations are both around design--interface and industrial. Follow him on Twitter!

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