Despite sudden firmware update, Storm seen as business-capable smart phone

One IT manager hedges on recommending Storm, uses 'business card trick' for better operation

Although the BlackBerry Storm needed a firmware upgrade just two weeks after going on sale, business users are still expected to warm up to the touch-screen handheld.

Despite the early problems, business users will still find value in the Storm, said Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney. Large businesses are already familiar with centralized BlackBerry security and management, Dulaney said, adding that various bugs will be worked out with the new device.

A firmware update was available to Storm customers last Friday, two weeks after the smart phone went on sale by Verizon Wireless. Verizon and Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, provided no details on the number of downloads. Users had complained about several problems, including lagging performance, especially when switching the Storm from landscape to portrait views by using its internal accelerometer.

Since the Storm is sold exclusively by Verizon Wireless, Dulaney said a large company that already has a contract with Verizon will find the Storm a suitable alternative for users who want Apple's iPhone.

"It's a BlackBerry," Dulaney said. "RIM will fix it. And if you have to use Verizon, and people are pushing for an iPhone, then you have a choice" by recommending they use the Storm. By comparison, the touch screens on phones from LG and Samsung are "poor," Dulaney said.

Verizon officials had high expectations for enterprise sales of the Storm prior to its release. They noted the high penetration of BlackBerries among business users, the Storm's new touch screen and its capability for use in many countries around the globe.

Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney said that upgrades, including the one last Friday, "aren't an issue for enterprise users who tend to let their IT departments manage the devices. In the IT world, upgrades are standard procedure so they simply consider it part of the process."

Dulaney said the release of the Storm followed quickly by an update is a situation that users should start to expect for all kinds of devices.

"We are in the age of over-the-air software updates," he said. "So products are released sometimes with bugs and a commitment to fix them. Many users value the vendor on how well they keep them up to date, rather than how many bugs are in the product to start with."

Simon Pang, an IT manager at URS Corp., an engineering firm with an office in Boston, purchased the Storm on the first day it was on store shelves. He said last week's firmware update had been a "huge improvement" in the Storm's performance. "After upgrading to the .75 OS, I am loving it," he said in an e-mail.

Prior to last week's update, Pang rated the Storm overall a "5" out of a possible "10," but raised his rating to a "7" after the upgrade. He said he expects possibly two more firmware updates to fix everything.

On the first day of Storm sales on Nov. 21, Pang had noticed the lag problem with the device while testing a demonstration unit at a Verizon store. He said he wouldn't recommend the device in that condition to his colleagues, but bought one anyway to conduct further testing for his own use and as a possible referral to his colleagues.

Asked this week if he could recommend the Storm for his company's use, Pang said, "I would recommend ... [it] to a co-worker with a lot of patience."

The Storm is "definitely not an iPhone killer yet. The OS isn't quite as smooth," Pang said. His company has used BlackBerries and Verizon service for many years, so switching to the iPhone, which requires an AT&T contract, is not an option.

Among his likes and dislikes, Pang said the Storm has the best sound of any of the three previous BlackBerry devices he has used. One problem he has encountered is "when I am on the phone, my face pushes against the screen and mutes the call" a problem that could be fixed with a lock button. He likes how the GPS is unlocked for navigation, but complained that the Verizon App store needs more applications and "hasn't changed much since the release."

A bigger problem is that the Storm has a Micro USB port instead of a Mini USB port, Pang said. "That really bothers me," he said. "I don't know why they changed it. It's kind of a pain getting new cables and a charger for the new connection. Maybe they just want to sell more accessories?"

Pang demonstrated the ingenuity of an IT manager when he said he had used the "business card trick" to fix the touch-screen keyboard on the Storm, since "for some reason or other" not all the keys will "click" when touched. He explained the trick: "You fold the business card in half and put it behind the battery. Fixed."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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