BlackBerry Storm2 Faces Uphill Struggle Against iPhone Despite Improvements

Vodafone has announced it will be offering the BlackBerry Storm2, and many expect Verizon Wireless to soon do the same in the United States. The early word from several analysts is that while the Storm2 is only a slight improvement on the Storm, it may nevertheless be a holiday hit.

UK wireless carrier Vodafone announced Oct. 15 that it will be offering the BlackBerry Storm2, the update to Research In Motion's Storm smartphone, in time for the holidays. The BlackBerry Storm is currently offered in the United States by Verizon Wireless.
The original BlackBerry Storm has been both admired and criticized, and with the Storm2, many hoped that RIM would correct some snafus as well as add functionality-such as the ability to connect to Wi-Fi, which is indeed on board the Storm2. But the snafus? Early opinions are somewhat mixed.
"The unit overall feels a lot tighter," Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, wrote to eWEEK in an e-mail, adding that the Storm2 has more memory and a cleaner physical design.
"The screen/press typing experience is still more wearying than simply touching a capacitive touch screen-like the iPhone or Android, or the Storm itself-but it works a lot better this time around," Greengart said. "This is partly due to more activators under the screen (four instead of one) and support not only for multitouch, but multiclick."
Despite its issues, the Storm sold well to Verizon Wireless customers, who were looking for a big, touch-screen smartphone, Greengart said.
"Seventy-five percent of buyers were new to the BlackBerry brand," Greengart told eWEEK, though he went on to say, "Some things haven't changed: The Storm2 features basically the same user interface that was first introduced with the BlackBerry Pearl back in 2006, only substituting your finger for the track ball and clicking the screen in lieu of pressing in the track ball."
Ken Hyers, an analyst with Technology Business Research, points out an imprecise touch screen and sluggish software as major failings of the Storm.
If RIM has addressed these, Hyers told eWEEK, "then the Storm2 will provide a compelling alternative to the iPhone for business users that need the enterprise-class e-mail and security that BlackBerry is famous for, while also providing the media-centric capabilities that users look for from the iPhone."
Which is not to say it will be converting many iPhone users, or making Apple feel a pinch.
"Even if the Storm2 has corrected these issues, it will face an uphill slog against the iPhone, because the Storm2 does not have the application ecosystem surrounding it that the iPhone does," Hyers said. "iPhone users can choose from over 85,000 applications, while only around 2,000 have been developed for the BlackBerry. Limited content choice means that Storm2 users will continue to see Apple customers get a greater variety of content to choose from, and developers will choose to focus their efforts on the iPhone because of its much larger base of customers."
Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney is less generous, explaining that while RIM has made software improvements, it hasn't improved the hardware problems he outlined in a March report on the BlackBerry Storm. The usability problems, he stated in the report, stem from three technical areas: a slow processor or non-optimized code; the 3.25-inch diagonal screen with SureType and a not-so-accurate digitizer; and the device's ability to port keyboard applications to touch.
"RIM has done about what they could do to improve things without changing the hardware," Dulaney told eWEEK. "It won't pull customers from the Palm Pre or the iPhone. The network and commitments to the carrier will do more to control that. Where the Storm and the iPhone co-exist, except where security is paramount, the iPhone will retain leadership."
Greengart said he believes the Storm2 won't see all the negatives reviews that its predecessor did. Instead, he said, "It will have to deal with improved competition, as Verizon Wireless launches improved Windows Mobile touch-screen phones from HTC and Samsung, and two Android phones to be named later."
Despite the Storm2's issues, TBR's Hyers said he expects that when it arrives in the United States, both carrier and device maker will have luck with it.
"I believe that Verizon will provide considerable promotional backing to the Storm2 and that RIM is likely to see the Storm2 turn out to be one of RIM's biggest sellers to date," Hyers said. "The device provides the clearest bridge between the corporate and consumer world of any BlackBerry yet and will prove very popular with customers this holiday season."