Are BlackBerry faithful losing their religion?

Research in Motion is offering BlackBerry users more than $100 worth of “premium apps” and a month of free tech support for enterprise users to make up for its recent worldwide rolling service outage. But will that be enough to keep users in the fold?

BlackBerry’s popularity has been in decline as users, including those in government, have moved to iPhones and Android devices. RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, released earlier this year, failed to catch on. And then came the service outage, which seemed to push even some devoted users over the edge.

The outages, which the company said resulted from a server error, first hit in Europe, the Middle East and Africa before spreading to the Americas on Oct. 12 and, overall, lasted about four days before RIM got the problem under control.

By then, even devoted “CrackBerry” addicts were hopping mad.

Mark Milian at CNN reported that writers of BlackBerry forums and blogs were talking of giving up the ghost. One writer, noting other recent problems, complained that RIM had been “chipping away at our faith,” while another said he was switching to an iPhone "after years of being treated like a battered spouse by RIM.”

And Jim Kerstetter, CNET's executive editor for technology, noting that he has defended and championed BlackBerry for years, declared, "RIM, you're dead to me now." 

“Here's the thing about BlackBerry users: We're people who, at least when it comes to our phones, appreciate function over form,” Kerstetter writes. “We've stuck with our little, not terribly stylish bricks because they worked. They didn't drop calls at bad moments. The e-mail came in and was easy to access. The point was simplicity, lack of worry. It just worked.
“Can I really say that now?” Kerstetter asked.

Compounding the outage problem for RIM is that even enterprises are beginning to turn to other devices, particularly Androids and iPhones.

BlackBerrys have long been a top choice for government users, among the most faithful practitioners of the “BlackBerry prayer” (head down, hands together, even while walking, like a monk going to Vespers except for the thumbs being busy on the keypad). Its security features and the ease with which it tied into the enterprise made it a logical choice.

But organizations looking to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce are finding ways to allow personal devices on the job. The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, is allowing employees to use smart phones and tablets in the enterprise, and that means Androids, iPhones and iPads.

Meanwhile, Apple just introduced the iPhone 4S, which sold 4 million units in three days. And not only are Android devices the most popular smart phones on the market, but a public/private research team is developing a secure kernel for Android 3.0 that could allow widespread use in military operations and emergency response.

So chances are more BlackBerry users could consider jumping ship. For those who remain, at least there are those free apps to check out.

The company announced Oct. 17 that it would make 12 apps available on its App World beginning Oct. 19, including the Vlingo Plus Virtual Assistant (RIM’s version of the iPhone 4S’ Siri), Drive Pro, and Photo Editor Ultimate.

More apps will follow, RIM said, and all will be available for free until Dec. 31.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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