BlackBerry Storm sales should be strong, Verizon says

On sale Friday, the smart phone has a touch screen, other features expected to appeal to consumers, enterprise users (see video below)

Despite the sluggish economy, Verizon Wireless Inc. predicts that sales of the BlackBerry Storm will be strong. The device goes on sale Friday for $200 after rebate.

Presale demand has been high, because the touch-screen smart phone from Research In Motion Ltd. has features that will appeal to both consumers and large business users, said Verizon Wireless spokesman Michael Murphy.

"Expectations [for sales] are good, with the run up to now showing huge demand," he said in an interview yesterday.

Even with the slumping economy expected to hurt holiday sales of consumer electronics, Murphy said overall interest in the smart-phone market generally is "still going well." Verizon set the price of the Storm at $200 (after rebate), a figure that reflects the company's interest in attracting new smart-phone users and consumers. The price is also lower than those of many other smart phones, Murphy and analysts noted. But the Storm should also attract interest from business users who want media functions they can use when they're away from work, he noted.

"Bottom line, this is a device that will let Verizon Wireless and BlackBerry compete directly with the iPhone in this new [smart phone] category," said Jeffrey Kagan, an independent analyst based in Atlanta. "The device looks like a winner based on the initial look."

The Storm is 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.55 inches in size, and it weighs 5.46 oz. It has a 3.2-megapixel camera that can be used to record still images and video. The removable and rechargeable lithium-cell battery provides six hours of talk time and 15 days of standby time. The device also supports Bluetooth 2.0.

Murphy demonstrated a beta version of the Storm for Computerworld yesterday, showing its ability to function as a device for both business users and consumers. For business users, he showed e-mail and messaging capabilities using a touch-screen keypad in both portrait and landscape views -- capabilities made possible by an accelerometer. He also demonstrated GPS capabilities, including voice-activated driving directions and mapping.

In addition, Murphy pointed out that the Storm uses the familiar BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which provides management and security functions, including the ability to remotely wipe data off a lost machine.

For consumers, Murphy played a video trailer of an action movie that was supported by the Storm's 3.25 in., 480- by 360-pixel display. Murphy noted that the Storm's 3.5mm headphone jack will support stereo headsets, which would be desirable for playing and listening to movies.

However, the beta software loaded on the demonstration unit got hung up twice during his demonstration, making it impossible to turn off a mapping application to return to the home screen. Even over a fast Verizon network connection, the mapping application took seconds to load and to move from screen to screen. Murphy said the shipping version shouldn't have those problems.

Verizon sees some real advantages over the iPhone with the BlackBerry Storm, including a removeable battery.

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