Executive Editor Emeritus
Join Date: Mar 2005
Storm Brews, Turns to Drizzle
The LG Voyager. The Dare. The Samsung Glyde. The Samsung Instinct. The T-Mobile G1.
They've all come and gone quite quietly, haven't they? For all the marketing hype about the Instinct and Sprint's absolutely gigantic ad campaign, it's gone nowhere. The LG Voyager? Touch may do more on the nation's largest 3G network, but if no one has the phone, they'll never know. The Dare? Never actually seen one in the wild. The Glyde? Almost every gadget site that reviewed it said it had the worst browser they had ever seen on a phone. The G1? Niche for now, and way close to "slapped together with duct tape" to be taken seriously (although honestly, I do expect that to change in the coming months).
And now we can add the BlackBerry Storm to the list. Congratulations tech press; you've invented yet another "iPhone Killer."
The "Perfect" Storm
Earlier this month Apple passed RIM as the number two smartphone maker in the world and is close on the heels of Nokia in units sold (although as I've said way back when I was writing for PocketPC Thoughts, I don't count Nokia because few people "choose" Symbian, they just get it with a phone they want, but that's another story). Yesterday, RIM launched its iPhone killer attempt 2, the Storm. You may remember attempt 1: the Bold. What RIM was touting as their next generation BlackBerry really just amounted to a Curve with a better screen and keyboard. The Storm is now expected, by both Verizon and them, to be the iPhone killer the Bold wasn't because, and this is the laughable part, it has a touch screen. Apparently all you need to do to beat Apple at the smartphone game is stick a touchscreen on your phone and call it better.
In reality, the Storm is really nothing new. When you strip off the clicking screen, it's just another BlackBerry with the same software that plays more multimedia stuff. Videos of it in action show the UI to be nice but, at times, laggy. Keyboard presses aren't as natural as the iPhone's because you have to actually make the screen click to register a press. Time Magazine's Anita Hamilton summarized the much-hyped input method thusly:
The trouble with having to push down on the entire 3.2-inch screen every time you type a letter or confirm a menu choice is that it slows you down. The idea behind the clickable screen is that it will minimize errors by getting you to think before you press. Instead, it took much of the fun out of using the device. While some people complain that the iPhone's touchscreen is a little too slick and imprecise - of the three devices, I tend to make the most typos with the iPhone - at least it's fast. And while the G1's mini, Chiclet-size keys seem designed for Lilliputians, they are accurate and respond even when pressed with the edge of a fingernail. The Storm's click screen, on the other hand, demands the strength of your entire thumb. What's more, the screen jiggles in the phone's casing when you press on it, which makes it feel cheap.
While I give credit to RIM for coming up with something new, it seems to have failed in elevating the user experience to a new level. I'll let people figure out what works best for them, and this could be a case of first-time jitters with people just getting used to something new, but something tells me we'll be hearing this complaint a lot in the coming weeks.
The Press Loves a Fight
The flaws and shortcomings of the Storm won't stop the press from declaring it an iPhone killer, or at least pointing out that Apple should be scared. Don Reisinger at C-Net spent a few hundred words telling us how a minor maintenance release to the iPhone in version 2.2 (launched yesterday) meant that Apple was scared of RIM's new shiny toy.
Apple realizes that RIM is releasing a major offering that could shake Steve Jobs and Co. to its core, and it doesn't want anyone to think it's not doing everything it can to continually update its own product.
But Apple's decision to release the update just as RIM releases the Storm strikes me as one of the most fascinating moves the company has made in quite some time. After checking out the update and considering the timing, I can't help but wonder if Apple is more than a little concerned about the BlackBerry Storm and RIM in general.
Say what you will, but Apple is scared. And it should be.
Cue the dramatic music, Don.
He continues on that RIM has numerous advantages: the removable battery, copy and paste, video recording, tethered data, and tactile feedback. Apparently, this is what's meant to shake Apple to its core. In his rush to declare the uber killer winner for 2008, Reisinger ignores the fact that the iPhone has an App store with thousands of apps (the Storm has one too, but can't touch the quantity of available apps), integration with the number one music retailer in the world, movie rentals, podcast support, and an online music store on the device whose prices are half that of Verizon's offering. Oh yeah, and did we mention the WiFi? The Storm doesn't have it. In 2008.
Reisinger says he is convinced after seeing Apple's update that it's scared of RIM, but has he seen RIM's offering? Probably not. I'd hazard a guess that it hasn't made its way into his hands yet. Here's what Engadget had to say about it:
Over the last few weeks we've been bombarded with commercials, leaks, press releases, and special events all celebrating the arrival of the Storm, both here and abroad. So it seems fairly obvious that yes, the companies believe they have a real contender on their hands -- and in many ways they do. The selling points are easy: the phone is gorgeous to look at and hold, it's designed and backed by RIM (now almost a household name thanks to their prevalence in the business and entertainment markets), and it's packed with features that, at first glance, make it seem not only as good as the iPhone, but better. The only hitch in this plan is a major one: it's not as easy, enjoyable, or consistent to use as the iPhone, and the one place where everyone is sure they have an upper hand -- that wow-inducing clickable screen -- just isn't all that great. For casual users, the learning curve and complexity of this phone will feel like an instant turn off, and for power users, the lack of a decent typing option and considerable lagginess in software will give them pause. RIM tried to strike some middle ground between form and function, and unfortunately came up short on both.
Going into this review, we really wanted to love this phone. On paper it sounds like the perfect antidote to our gripes about the iPhone, and in some ways it lives up to those promises -- but more often than not while using the Storm, we felt let down or frustrated. Ultimately, this could be a great platform with a little more time in the oven, but right now, it feels undercooked -- and that's not enough for us.
Yeah. Apple should be scared.
Time for a Reality Check
Calling something a name doesn't make it true, and in this case calling an iPhone killer doesn't make it true. Every time a new phone with a touchscreen comes out from now until the end of the world, every touch screen phone will be compared to the iPhone because it's the market-leader at the moment.
In the end, I hope that one day Apple does face some stiff competition. Any time someone gets too much market share in any market segment they become arrogant and complacent. Microsoft had done so with Windows Mobile only to face a strong surge from RIM and Apple. Apple does it currently with the iPod and their iPod line (not counting the Touch and the iPhone) are in serious need of innovation at the moment. RIM did it with their handhelds and moved out incremental updates to almost the same form factor for almost 10 years.
I would love to see Apple face a serious competitor that would offer something that would lure me away from the iPhone, but I've yet to see it. The closest anyone has come is the G1, and after using one for a few days, I'm not 100% sure that's the answer. Yet. I'm just tired of the tech press hyping something as an iPhone killer only to later watch it fall flat on its face. In this case, the Storm was RIM's savior and the reviews have, at best, been lukewarm.
Maybe next time a company decides to release a phone, we won't hear it's an iPhone killer until it actually kills the iPhone, or in Don Reisinger's case, until you've actually had the "killer" in closer proximity than a web page photo.
What a novel idea.
Vincent Ferrari is an Apple fan, videoblogger, blogger, writer, and all-around geek from the Bronx. He works in the IT Department of a cellular phone company that shall not be named, and lives in a very comfortable apartment with his lovely wife, two lovely cats, three Macs, two iPhones, and God-knows-how-many iPods of varying age.
Current Apple Stuff: 24" iMac, iPhone 4, AppleTV (original), 4gb Shuffle, 64gb iPad 2.