T-Mobile Stung by Customer Anger Over iPhone for BlackBerry Trade-ins

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-02-18

T-Mobile Stung by Customer Anger Over iPhone for BlackBerry Trade-ins

T-Mobile had to perform damage control and so announced Feb. 18 that it will offer an expanded selection of BlackBerry devices after users expressed outrage in tweets and phone calls about the carrier's offer to accept BlackBerry trade-ins for new iPhones.

This follows a series of tweets by T-Mobile CEO John Legere to outraged T-Mobile BlackBerry customers who received letters offering to accept trade-ins of their BlackBerry devices for iPhones. In a statement provided to eWEEK, T-Mobile said it will begin offering an expanded selection of BlackBerry devices as early as Feb. 21.

The overtures to BlackBerry customers also came after BlackBerry CEO John Chen posted a blog on his company's Website that thanked BlackBerry users for their loyalty and reminded Legere of the long relationship between the two companies.

T-Mobile started promoting the iPhone for BlackBerry trade-in offer the week of Feb. 10, and user protests increased in volume over the long Presidents' Day holiday weekend. BlackBerry users took the trade-in offer as a sign that T-Mobile would no longer sell or support their favorite mobile devices.

Although the trade-in offer still stands, a T-Mobile spokesperson wrote in a statement to eWEEK that the company will also make the full line of BlackBerry devices available for sale. "Customers can purchase some of the latest BlackBerry devices from T-Mobile—including the Q10 and Z10 that we have carried since they launched," the statement said.

T-Mobile customers can buy and receive direct shipment of BlackBerry devices from more than 3,000 T-Mobile retail stores, according to the statement. "As an additional courtesy to our BlackBerry customers, we will begin offering free expedited shipping of BlackBerry devices by Friday [Feb. 21]. Customers can also bring unlocked BlackBerry devices to T-Mobile. We are happy to be a BlackBerry partner and apologize for any confusion."

Recently, T-Mobile US had apparently decided that BlackBerry devices were no longer popular with its customers. The company had stopped carrying all but one type of new BlackBerry, the Curve 9310. The much hyped BlackBerry Z10 was nowhere to be seen in T-Mobile's product listings. All you could find there was a refurbished Q10. This was apparently a choice by the U.S. branch of T-Mobile because the parent company still lists the full line.

This was a major change for T-Mobile, which had long supported products from Research In Motion, the company now simply known as BlackBerry.

It was T-Mobile that took a chance on what previously had been a fancy pager that did email and helped launch what became the dominant smartphone on the market. And it was BlackBerry, the mobile device company from Canada, that saw just how compelling a phone that did messaging could be. For years, T-Mobile sold BlackBerry phones in the United States while its German corporate parent, Deutsche Telekom, sold them in Europe.

However Apple's iPhone became something that T-Mobile just had to have on its store shelves even as BlackBerry's fortunes declined.

T-Mobile Stung by Customer Anger Over iPhone for BlackBerry Trade-ins

Eventually, through some smart negotiating by Legere, T-Mobile gained an agreement to sell iPhones to its users of its mobile network.

So now the iPhone officially runs on T-Mobile (unlocked iPhones have always worked on the carrier's network, although sometimes with difficulty). I was one of those people who went out and bought an unlocked iPhone and ran it on T-Mobile. A week later, I returned it to Apple.

Since then, T-Mobile has been featuring the iPhone at a lower price than the competition, and it's been selling them with very attractive terms, while also claiming to offer higher wireless speeds and better voice quality. But not everyone, it seems, finds the iPhone 5 irresistible.

For me the screen was too small, and it was hard to type on the tiny keyboard. A couple of months later, I got a BlackBerry Z10, which worked just fine on the T-Mobile network, had a larger screen and faster browser, and was vastly easier to type on.

But there's more to the backlash than just a better keyboard. The BlackBerry has a long-established reputation as a mobile device for business applications, which is a big reason why some BlackBerry customers are so loyal to the brand. Couple this with T-Mobile's international roaming along with service plans that are reasonably priced, and it's easy to see why using a BlackBerry on T-Mobile is a win for business.

But to be really useful for some businesses, security is a must. This means using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Balance. While security may not matter to some, it's critical for companies that work for government services, for government contractors or in the financial sector.

Over the long term, carriers' steadiest business comes from business users. These are the users who pay for high amounts of data, who are willing to pay for reliable access and who must have a secure network connection. This, of course, is the BlackBerry sweet spot.

While BlackBerry is now making its relatively secure BlackBerry Messenger available to iOS and Android users, it's the company's devices that can take advantage of BlackBerry Balance, which allows users to partition the device for work and personal access and maintain a solid wall between the two sides.

Here in Washington, D.C., BlackBerry devices are very common. While they still don't have the market share of Apple or Android devices, they're very much a part of the mobile landscape.

So why did T-Mobile ask BlackBerry users to turn in their devices? Probably it was just one more way to build up interest in T-Mobile's constant battle to be top-of-mind amongst mobile customers.

But for loyal BlackBerry users, it looked like another insult to their favorite mobile device maker. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and T-Mobile has changed its position. BlackBerry devices are once again going to be available from T-Mobile, and the concerns of BlackBerry's customers have been addressed.

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