Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thoughts regarding: The Blackberry Storm

I get asked my opinion on this handset a lot, so its probably due time I write something about it.

To be perfectly frank, I don't understand the reason for the Storm. RIM caters to a specific crowd of users who have stuck with them because they prefer the Blackberry platform. Clearly, touchscreens aren't particularly important to these users- Despite the endless models of touchscreen devices being released all around them, Blackberry users have remained glued to their trusty RIM handsets.
Because touchscreen or not, when it comes to messaging, blackberrys work well. Period.
They may not have the best multimedia options, or support mind blowing 3rd party applications, or even have many interesting features at all... but that's not why people buy Blackberrys. They buy them because they are a great email and messaging device. They are intuitive and straight forward and offer features like corporate email without getting too complicated.

Consumers who want fancy multimedia, games, and shtick are not looking at Blackberrys. They're looking at iPhones.
Consumers who want the most powerful and versatile devices in the world aren't looking at Blackberrys either. They generally prefer the more adaptive yet exponentially more complicated Smartphone platforms such as Windows Mobile, Android, or Symbian.
People buy Blackberrys when they want a no nonsense handset that consistently delivers a professional experience. This is where the Storm fails.

RIM, if you're reading this, why are you trying to fix something that ain't broke?
As I've blogged before, touchscreens are fun and gimmicky, but very often can't compare to good ol' fashioned buttons.

They're clearly trying to break out of their professional-oriented mold, and reach out to the people who are looking into other devices.
However, all it takes is a few moments with this device to realize their lack of experience is showing. It doesn't even approach the feature set and fluidity of competing products.
Meanwhile, they ruined almost all the things that make Blackberry great. They ditched their keyboard (something that was fantastic on almost every blackberry), and re-wrote their OS to be touch-sensitive and "fun".
The problem is that since this is their first foray into the world of Touchscreens, the new OS is buggy as all heck. Users have been reporting that the device doesn't always respond as expected (screen reorient to landscape didn't flip keyboard when I tried to type in landscape mode. I was stuck with a sideways keyboard).
Additionally, the big selling point, the "press-and-click" touchscreen, creates a very counter-intuitive user experience in my opinion. While playing with one, I found that pressing a letter on the keyboard only highlighted the area. In order to actually enter that letter, one must give an additional push downward to make the whole screen click like a button. Cute, but not practical. Sometimes you feel like you're typing because it is reacting to your keypresses, but unless you "click" as well, no text is being entered. Additionally, some things work without clicking (such as finger scrolling through menus), and other times a click is required (pressing a button).

All in all, it wasn't the WORST device I've ever used (the Moto Q still holds that crown), however it was dissapointing for a Blackberry. Its the sort of device someone could probably get used to, and learn the ins and outs over time, however people buy Blackberrys because they are not supposed to have learning curves. If you want to learn the ins and outs, you may as well buy a more capable smartphone, such as a Windows Mobile device.

So in the end of the day, what do we end up with? A Blackberry messaging device without a keyboard that pales in comparison to other touchscreen phones, AND to previous Blackberrys. A true Jack of all trades, but master of none.

The proof is in the users... a friend who works in a Verizon store told me that the Storm is the most returned handset on Verizon currently in his store, with new users showing buyers' remorse at an alarming rate.

Can RIM fix the Storm? Perhaps in the next version. But why? Why is this worth doing when there are plenty of touchscreen devices that offer the same push email experience and sync, but do a better job and have more features?

My personal opinion is that RIM should drop the storm, and go back to focusing on what makes their handsets great. Maybe they should work on fixing that firmware issue in the Bold...