BlackBerry Storm: more thunder than lighting?

The BlackBerry Storm
RIM's BlackBerry Storm is aimed squarely at Apple's iPhone 3G and T-Mobile's G1 Google phone.

After two years of development and $100 million in advertisements, the BlackBerry Storm gets its first real report card Tuesday. Verizon Wireless, the exclusive US carrier for RIM's smartphone, issues its earnings report tomorrow. Analysts and investors will pay keen attention to the Storm's scores, wondering how it's faring against the iPhone.

This is a bad time for many tech companies. Sony and Samsung reported their first losses ever. Microsoft cut 5,000 jobs, with computer, Vista, and Zune sales slumping. This morning, electronics-maker Philips said it will slash 6,000 jobs after losing $1.9 billion during the last quarter of 2008.

On top of this bad market moment, critics have rained on the Storm for spotty software and a finicky touchscreen that made some wish BlackBerry had never strayed from physical keyboards. The Wall Street Journal quoted an unhappy customer saying:

Racing to put the phone on shelves the week before Black Friday, RIM sold 500,000 Storms in the first month, according to an unnamed source in the WSJ's article. Good start, but "well off the pace of AT&T Inc.'s sale of 2.4 million iPhone 3G devices in that device's first full quarter on the market."

And while the iPhone's buzz remains strong, excitement over the Storm dissipated after its release. A software update last month patched many of the phone's weak spots, but many eyes have now turned toward the coming Palm Pre and future Android phones. Tomorrow will reveal whether quiet press means disappointing sales.

RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie is bullish, telling WSJ that the Storm is "an overwhelming success" and claiming that the company manufactures 250,000 devices a week to meet demand. If such numbers continued, Verizon and RIM might skate out of this disastrous fourth quarter unharmed.

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