Can The BlackBerry Storm Live Up To The Hype?


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BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. has a lot riding on the BlackBerry Storm, it's first-ever touch-screen smartphone and the Canadian device manufacturer's official Apple iPhone rival. And when the Storm hits stores Friday, it will determine whether the Storm is the iPhone killer it's predicted to be or whether it's another iPhone clone following Apple's lead.

And while both Verizon Wireless -- the Storm's exclusive carrier in the U.S. -- and BlackBerry are confident the BlackBerry Storm will sell briskly despite the tough economy, the hype surrounding the device may be hard to keep up with. Reviewers are already saying mixed things about the Storm, some panning the touch-screen keyboard and its lack of Wi-Fi; some praising its overall slickness.

BlackBerry loyalists and fickle smartphone consumers alike have been salivating over the possibility of a touch-screen BlackBerry since Steve Jobs and Apple birthed the first run of iPhones. Originally, RIM brass said the iPhone presented little to no threat against its smartphone empire, but the iPhone quickly became the most popular mobile device, mostly due to this summer's official release if the Apple iPhone 3G. Somewhere along the line, RIM took notice.

A touch-screen device puts RIM into some elite company. Not only is RIM now going to duke it out toe-to-toe against the iPhone, but it's primed for battle against other touch-screen titans looking to steal Apple's thunder. Last month, HTC and T-Mobile teamed up to release the T-Mobile G1, the first smartphone based on the open source Google Android mobile operating system. The G1 was closely followed by the HTC Fuze, AT&T's 3G take on the HTC TouchPro, another coveted touch screen. And, just this week, AT&T and LG Electronics paired up to debut LG's first-ever U.S. smartphone, the LG Incite.

The touch-screen smartphone market has become a crowded field with everyone trying to snag a piece of the Apple iPhone pie. For all involved, it's an uphill battle for touch-screen supremacy.

Still, RIM and the BlackBerry Storm stand the best chance at a coup. To date, BlackBerry has a loyal, millions-strong following, many of whom have to have the latest and greatest device RIM has to offer. With the Storm, BlackBerry is releasing one of the most coveted devices in BlackBerry's 10-year history.

What's working against RIM in this instance, however, is its market saturation. In recent months, a host of new BlackBerry devices have been released, with more planned before the New Year Baby makes an appearance. It started with the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220, then the BlackBerry Bold 9000. Now the Storm is hitting the market as another BlackBerry, the BlackBerry Curve 8900, also known as the BlackBerry Javelin, waits in the wings and could be released by year's end. Too many devices in quick succession could make it difficult for users to chose which best suits them.

Granted, none of the new models are as flashy as the BlackBerry Storm, which is sure to entice not only the corporate corner office set, but the casual smart-phone consumer as well. Still, too many cooks can spoil the broth, and when one device maker releases a string of hot devices in rapid succession, they can only serve to compete against each other.

BlackBerry is also facing the possibility of a BlackBerry Storm shortage, due to a security flaw found in the operating system that needed to be fixed before the smartphones were shipped to stores. That fix created a shipping delay, meaning Verizon Wireless stores will get the Storm in staggered shipments as opposed to in one big chunk. The possible shortage also makes getting the Storm into retail stores like Best Buy a secondary priority, so essentially it could be left out of the first round of shipments if supply can't fill demand. If the hype around the Storm is as great as perceived, that could make for many an angry CrackBerry addicts come tomorrow morning.

To RIM's credit, the company was smart to hit that sub-$200 price point for the Storm, a realm shared by the 8 GB Apple iPhone 3G, the T-Mobile G1 and the LG Incite, which will work in its favor.

And with the Storm, which operates on Verizon's 3G network, packing in all of BlackBerry's e-mail, calendaring, messaging and mobile Web capabilities, along with a host of multimedia capabilities like GPS, video, music and more, it's bound to turn heads. The Storm also features a 3.2-megapixel camera with zoom, flash and video-recording capabilities, which beats out the rest of its touch-screen competition. And the Storm's 'clickable' touch-screen, which makes an audible clicking sound and depresses slightly as users type on the touch-sensitive display, is a key differentiator.

Overall, despite some minor setbacks, it appears the BlackBerry Storm will be the smartphone to watch as the holidays quickly close in. While its release may not see mile-long lines like the 3G iPhone's release, it's poised to grab attention when it hits stores tomorrow. And that attention will be well-deserved.

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