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RIM CEO's Statement On Buggy Phones Is Unacceptable

The Wall Street Journal ran a story detailing the "bumpy start" seen by Research In Motion's BlackBerry Storm smartphone. InformationWeek detailed a lot of the Storm's software problems in its full review of the device. In response to the rocky launch, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that such issues are the "new reality." I think that's the wrong attitude.
The Wall Street Journal ran a story detailing the "bumpy start" seen by Research In Motion's BlackBerry Storm smartphone. InformationWeek detailed a lot of the Storm's software problems in its full review of the device. In response to the rocky launch, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that such issues are the "new reality." I think that's the wrong attitude.There's no denying that today's smartphones are complex devices. Developing, testing, and manufacturing them is undoubtedly a challenge for all the parties involved. Add the pressure of making a hard deadline (such as hitting the market before Black Friday), and the probability of products landing on store shelves in less-than-final form isn't a surprise.

In the last six months, the two biggest devices of the year had major problems at launch. The iPhone 3G ran into serious issues with connectivity, stability, and performance. The BlackBerry Storm had problems with its accelerometer, unresponsive software and more. The problems were not few and far between. Rather, they were widespread and well publicized. You'd think companies such as Apple and RIM would learn from the negative backlash and do better to make sure their products are in tip-top shape when delivered to the public.

Instead of admitting that perhaps it dropped the ball, the WSJ says of RIM's CEO, "Balsillie said the companies made the crucial Black Friday deadline 'by the skin of their teeth,' after missing a planned October debut. Mr. Balsillie said such scrambles -- and the subsequent software glitches that need to be fixed -- are part of the 'new reality' of making complex cell phones in large volumes."

In other words, Mr. Balisillie thinks it is acceptable to ship buggy products, with the expectation that professionals and consumers will deal with the problems and wait for software/firmware updates to fix any problems. This is called a "public beta" by some.

Mr. Balisillie, this thinking is totally wrong-headed.

Traveling professionals live and die by their ability to connect. What's a professional to do when a smartphone lets them down on the road? If they don't have a laptop, they may be sunk. The consequences could include lost business, missed messages, and missed appointments. What's more, that person's employer may see lost productivity as a result of buggy phones that crash or don't work properly.

Business professionals and consumers alike deserve products that work as advertised out of the box. They shouldn't have to be forced to endure a public beta -- lasting who knows how long -- before the products are solidified by updates.

Mr. Balisllie, shame on you for thinking that your customers don't deserve the best experience possible.

(By the way, I hold Verizon Wireless responsible, too. I know how important the Black Friday shopping weekend is to a company's bottom line, but Verizon Wireless knew it was releasing a buggy phone, too. It should have more respect for its customers.)

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer