RIM's free apps, tech support get measure of support

Companies less interested in compensation than making sure RIM keeps the network up and running

Reaction was somewhat positive to Research in Motion's compensation offer to its customers after last week's global BlackBerry outage that lasted as long three days for some users.

RIM said it would offer free apps valued at more than $100 to its 70 million customers "as an expression of appreciation for their patience during the recent service disruptions."

RIM also said enterprise customers would be offered a month of free technical support. Current customers will get a one-month extension of their technical support contracts, while those without a contract will get one month of enhanced tech support free of charge.

"I think that's a good response" to the outages, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. "They can't break the company. Users should want RIM to remain viable."

Several business customers said they would evaluate the compensation offers before offering a comment.

Separately, many consumers tweeted reactions from "Really?" to wanting to see a full list of the free apps. "Where do we get our free stuff then?" tweeted LukeMarsden.

Several tweeted that one of the free apps, Texas Hold'em Poker 2 by Gameloft, is a gambling app and was an ironic choice given RIM's current circumstances. RIM listed the others as SIMS 3, Bejeweled, NOVA, Bubble Bash 2, Photo Editor Ultimate, DriveSafe.lyPro, iSpeech Translator Pro, Drive Safe.ly Enterprise, Nobex Radio Premium, Shazam Encore and Vlingo Plus: Virtual Assistant.

The complete selection of apps will become available over four weeks, starting Wednesday, and will be available until Dec. 31.

Despite the compensation, some users said they will move off the BlackBerry platform as soon as their carrier contracts run out or a suitable replacement technology becomes available.

"The outage mattered to us, but there wasn't much we could do about it," said Paul Rowton, vice president of Edward Food Giant in Marianna, Ark., in a telephone interview. Several executives still use a BlackBerry, he added.

"We'll probably switch when the iPhone gets 4G capability." That could come in the next version, but not for a year, industry insiders have said.

Rowton said he couldn't assess the value of a free month of tech support or the free apps without more consideration. The most important thing is to have reliable service, he argued. "The outage was frustrating. I tried to get closer to a laptop."

Melvin Goodyear, an infrastructure analyst at Newfoundland Power, a division of Canada-based Fortis, said the outage created big headaches for him on a trip to New York last week. Compensation from RIM is less important than making a thorough evaluation of continued usage of BlackBerry devices, he said.

During the outage, Goodyear had to resort to texting or voice calls with his BlackBerry, which felt like going back to the 1990s, he said. Each text cost him 50 cents, and texting wasn't the best channel for getting tech support updates.

"I'm not saying we will replace the BlackBerries, but we will be looking at the alternatives," Goodyear added. About 200 of 600 workers at Newfoundland Power use a BlackBerry, he said.

Jack Merrill, an attorney at a Mayer, Antonellis, Jachowicz and Haranas, a firm in Framingham, Mass., said he spent most of Thursday without email on his BlackBerry. He operates it under the BlackBerry Internet Service, separate from his firm's BlackBerry Enterprise Server that supports other lawyers. "Free tech support wouldn't be anything relevant," Merrill said, but he was going to look at the free apps before passing judgment.

"Normally, BlackBerry is mission critical to me when I'm out of the office, but Thursday I was in the office and had my computer on," he said.

The free month of tech support requires registration at RIM's website.

Enhanced tech support gives customers a four-hour response time to either a phone call or electronic incident submission. RIM didn't state the value of the enhanced tech support, but such services are usually based on the number of users. Enhanced support is described as "an affordable introductory level of support for your entire BlackBerry environment," and is one step above Basic support, which provides users with an eight-hour response time once an incident report is filed.

Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC, said RIM's compensation offers might be better received by consumers than by businesses. "Some consumers will be OK with them, but enterprises might want something more," Llamas said. "If you are a carrier or a big customer of BlackBerry, what you are mainly looking for is that RIM never, ever let the network go down again."

RIM couldn't afford to buy a new BlackBerry device for its 70 million customers, Llamas said. The free apps are a way to further interest in the BlackBerry App World, and are a "start" to make consumers happy.

"I don't know if this offer is the be-all and end-all, but it gets the conversation going," Llamas added.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the compensation offers show that RIM "is trying to make it up to their clients. And that may mean a lot in a world where so few companies try anymore to keep their clients happy."

Among the ironic outcomes of last week's BlackBerry outage were reports that traffic accidents declined by more than 20% in Dubai and by 40% in Abu Dhabi, places where police said young drivers tend to drive while texting on their BlackBerries.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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