iPhone, Android and Storm hurt RIM's subscriber growth

BlackBerry maker, RIM, just reported it's first drop in subscriber growth since 2006 back when they were in patent litigation. RIM likely has the iPhone, and to a lesser degree, Google's Android phones to thank. But while RIM might point the finger at Apple or Google, there's more fingers in that hand pointing back at themselves. The failure of the Storm.

Sure, the Storm flew off the shelves initially and RIM had a great initial push with the new touch screen SmartPhone. But RIM failed to fix major bugs and usability problems for months and months and months. Users were left to install unauthorized, leaked versions of the Storm's OS to see if that would get them by until RIM finally did something. Not everyone was willing hang on, trying to use a phone that shipped six-plus months before it was ready, impacting their business productivity. I wasn't. I'd had enough. And I had to eat crow and admit I was wrong about the iPhone, that it really is an amazingly superior SmartPhone, and switch out my Storm for an iPhone.

I remember the Verizion service person asking why I was switching from the cool new BlackBerry Storm and going to an iPhone. When I told user the product was simply unusable, she responded, "yes, the Storm can be too much phone for some users". Uhg. I said, "let me be clear, this product is defective and Verizon and RIM refuse to fix its problems. There may be a release coming 'someday' but that's not today for me." She acknowledge they've been hearing that a lot. The lady seemed pretty skilled at turning off service for BlackBerry Storms. No doubt why.

But the Storm isn't the only reason RIM's subscriber growth is dropping. Yes, the Storm was supposed to pick up the slack and capture users who might otherwise go to the iPhone. Apple's solid, very usable product has a lot to do with it. And so does Android, and now possibly the Palm Pre. RIM's problems won't get easier, they are likely to get worse as Android shows up on a large number of phones during late 2009 and 2010 (I've heard numbers upwards of 120+ new phone models running Android will be introduced during 2010.)

Now the Pre is also an alternative - we'll know better in the next few months what kind of legs the Pre will have in market. The dark horse in the race is the noticeably absent Windows Mobile 7 phone, which we're starting to hear a few rumors about, but everyday it gets farther and farther behind the iPhone and Android phones.

Death of the BlackBerry? No, definitely not. BlackBerry has its passionate users much like the iPhone does (at least those who weren't tainted by the Storm experience.) I find those most passionate about Blackberries are so because of it's keyboard and easy texting abilities. Most SmartPhones have equivalent email capabilities these days. But the door's wide open for Google and Palm to step right in and continue to take subscribers away from BlackBerry just as Apple has been doing.

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Mitchell Ashley

Network World
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