Commentary

Bleak Week For BlackBerry Even As Apple Shines

Research In Motion is reporting this morning that services on its BlackBerry devices worldwide have improved "significantly" in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa and are progressing well in other regions including the U.S., Canada and Latin America, as Guarav Raghuvanshi reports in the Wall Street Journal. This follows several days of disruptions that began overseas on Monday and crept around the world throughout the week.

Disruptions in email, instant-messaging and Web browsing “forced many BlackBerry users to resort to phone calls and faxes” and “affected most of the Canadian company's key markets … and a big chunk of its 70 million world-wide subscribers,” the Journalreported earlier.

The stock price, reeling for several years against mounting competition from Apple and Android devices, has reached “bottom- fishers” territory, Smart Money tell us. So too, perhaps, has its reputation.

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“Analysts say that RIM was battling to restore more than service to the millions faced with malfunctioning BlackBerry cell phone service,” writes the New York Times’ Jenna Wortham. “The company was also fighting for its foothold in a rapidly changing industry.” And Ad Age’sKunur Patel ledes with the observation, “For a smartphone struggling to keep its foothold in the global market, BlackBerry's service hiccups this week couldn't have had worse timing.”

Forget that slipper perch. BGC partners analyst Colin Gillis suggests to Wortham that RIM has gone a-tumbling and landed with a messy splat. “It’s symbolic of what’s going on at the company,” he tells Wortham. “It’s a bloodbath.”

RIM is addressing the problem with “BlackBerry Service Update” in prominent blue type at the top of the home page, which links to a page with blog-like posts on the problem. Unfortunately, one needs to be versed in techno gobbledygook to have a clue about what exactly the problem is, and the explanation was delayed. It was late Tuesday GMT, more than a day after the problem was first reported on the site, that that overseas customers were informed that “the messaging and browsing delays some of you are still experiencing were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure.”

I suspect most people’s reaction to that would be, “so, switch the switch, whydoncha?” You’ve got to communicate more empathetically than that is a crisis situation. Then again, the BlackBerry does have its fanboys. A survey of visitors to CrackBerry.com asks: “How ticked off are you over this disruption…?” Guess what?

Wrong.

A good deal of the 98 responses early this morning were of the “hey, mon, [outages] happen” variety. They’d figured out workarounds, weren’t affected or were forgiving. Of course, devotees of a site called CrackBerry may be a tad biased.

Age’s Patel abruptly ends with the observation, “meanwhile, iPhone brand perception is soaring in all three markets."

Indeed, despite what Online Media Daily’s Steve Smith characterized as a “lukewarm press reception” following its unveiling last week, the iPhone 4S blew away previous sales records and surpassed a million pre-sell orders in its first day earlier this week.

I use a BlackBerry Bold. I’ve always thought of it as a transitory device as I wait for my carrier, T-Mobile, to get into iPhoneland by hook or by crook or by merger. Email is okay on the BlackBerry but Web surfing is not nearly as seamless as it is on the first-generation iPad Touch I’ve had for nearly four years now. And the early disappointment among reviewers about “the absence of a new physical design, a larger screen and the much-rumored 'iPhone 5 moniker',” as Smith writes, is being muted by glowing appraisals of the new software.

Take, for instance, the headline above David Pogue’s review in the New York Times: “New iPhone Conceals Sheer Magic.”

Or look at the video on the Times website of Sam Grobart conversing on a barstool with the built-in personal assistant Siri. Why, it even has a sense of humor, as the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg discovered when he asked it, "What's the best phone?" The response: "Wait … there are other phones?"

If you’re hitched to a BlackBerry but have lust in your heart for an iPhone, I can tell you from experience that you’ll be crying in your suds.

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