BlackBerry Storm firmware updated two weeks after launch

Analyst calls quick fix a 'wake-up call' for normally efficient smart phone maker RIM

Just two weeks after sales of the device began, Verizon Wireless and Research In Motion Ltd. have issued a firmware update of the BlackBerry Storm, which has some customers concerned.

One customer, in an e-mail to Computerworld, said she might just return the smart phone to Verizon, rather than bother with this or future updates, because of the hassle. "It's great that they have software updates for the phone, but you would think it would just be easier to fix it all before they come out with the phone altogether," said Jacquelyn Pourroy, who waited in line at a Boston store to purchase her BlackBerry Storm on Nov. 21, the first day of sale.

Pourroy, a chef, said she had a mixed reaction to the device, liking its touch screen and camera, but disliking several things, including the way it lags between some functions. "There are clear problems with the phone. The sluggishness ... is killing me. It takes quite a while for the phone to flip the screen from horizontal viewing to lateral viewing and back," Pourroy said.

According to documents obtained by Computerworld, Verizon told its customers that the upgrade, called Storm OS (Release 107), resolves several problems with intermittent power off and on; intermittent muted incoming audio while using voice-activated dialing; intermittent incomplete dialing when dialing *86; and intermittent problems with audio volumes increased to the highest level for users on wired stereo headsets.

General improvements in the upgrade provided better multimedia performance, Bluetooth audio, and displaying of keys when switching between landscape and portrait mode, the documents said. The latter improvement might have been designed to address at least part of what Pourroy complained about.

The lag problem was also noted by some customers at a demonstration of the Storm devices at the Boston store that Pourroy visited, and showed up when a Verizon spokesman showed off the device to Computerworld the day before it went on sale.

One tester at The Boy Genius Report site recently found that one firmware upgrade improved the lag problem, but that was a different version from the one that Verizon officially released.

Boy Genius said that it obtained the Storm OS and found a dramatic improvement when switching from landscape to portrait, as well as improved battery time and other improvements. But the upgrade it tested was reviewed on Nov. 30, and was in comparison with Versions .75 and .65 of the operating system. Boy Genius didn't say how it obtained the .76 build, and Verizon said it could not discuss builds other than those it officially released.

Jeffrey Kagan, an independent analyst, said it was too bad that Verizon faced an upgrade and initial problems during the most vital selling month of the year. "This [problem] may give BlackBerry a temporary black eye," Kagan said. "It's nothing fatal, but a wake-up call."

"To a device maker who has legions of satisfied customers and flawless rollouts, this can be embarrassing," he said.

Kagan said he sympathized with customers who struggled with the problem every day until a software fix is released, noting that Apple's iPhone 3G experienced problems when rolled out last summer, but Apple has issued updates and "since then, the product works great."

Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney said, "Upgrades are standard in the industry [and] are done because we are always looking to improve the user's experience with a device." She could not say how many people would take advantage of the upgrade. "Recognize that not everyone feels that they need the upgrade," Raney added.

Upgrade instructions are available at the Web sites of Verizon (PDF) and RIM.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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