BlackBerry Storm could make big splash with business users

A funny thing happened on the way to marketing the Blackberry Storm, the new wireless device from Research In Motion Ltd. that goes on sale later this year over the Telus network.

While marketing experts, and apparently even RIM, expect the upcoming touch-screen device to make a big splash with consumers as a competitor to Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the Storm has also been making an impression among large business customers.

The reason: the Storm is a BlackBerry, the most widely used smart phone at large businesses, and it owes much of its success to the security it offers through RIM’s Network Operations Center (NOC) in Canada.

RIM couldn’t say when the device will be sold in stores or what it will cost, but many bloggers said it will go on sale in late November.

Tomorrow and Wednesday, developers at the BlackBerry Developer Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., will get more information about the device, which was first announced Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless (that will selling the Storm in the U.S.) said business customers have shown great interest in Storm when Verizon Wireless sales representatives have shown it to them in meetings during the past month or so.

“It’s kind of interesting, actually,” said Brenda Boyd Raney, a spokeswoman for. “You would have initially thought the Storm was for the consumer, with its video capabilities and HTML browsing.”

“People always like new and shiny tools,” Ridley said in an interview. He said he has evaluated a simulation of the Storm online but still needs to see how the touch-screen keyboard performs. Even if he doesn’t like it personally, Ridley said he won’t ban the device, saying that users will find ways to go around IT.

But she noted that BlackBerry stands for “quality to the enterprise”, and said the business customer is also a consumer outside of the 9-to-5 job.”

The device, industry observers say, could be easy for IT managers to accept, primarily because the BlackBerry has been preferred by large companies for years.

The smart phone has a reputation for stability and for security bolstered with an added layer of protection through the NOC, Raney and analysts said. “There’s already IT approval for the overall BlackBerry system.”  .

Raney said business users also don’t seem deterred by two outages on parts of the RIM network in the past three years.

RIM released a video of the BlackBerry Storm that showed its multimedia capabilities for consumers, using rock music as a background with colourful editing and graphics.

Another video was released of the Storm showing its business uses, including how a SIM card can be used by business travelers on the Vodafone network outside Verizon’s Wireless CDMA network in the U.S.

“The fact the Storm is fabulously stylish makes it all the more compelling a reason to get it,” Raney said.

Ron Ridley, a network analyst at St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, said the approximately 200 BlackBerry users at his organization will probably like the Storm, and he is eager to have Verizon Wireless provide a full demonstration of the new touch screen and other features.

Ridley said he has noticed that RIM has run TV ads to attract consumers to the BlackBerry, following the success of the iPhone.

“BlackBerry is expanding to the consumer” and has included iTunes synchronization in the Storm, he noted. The Storm would be the kind of “device you do business with and then have also as your personal phone.”

And while St. Luke’s won’t support the iPhone because of security and support worries, Ridley said Storm will have the kind of security and support he has grown to like from using BlackBerries.

Two outages on the BlackBerry network in the past three years “are a slight bug in the back of my mind,” he said, but added that he still has been able to solve BlackBerry problems by calling RIM directly, bypassing Verizon Wireless if necessary.

Some analysts agree that the Storm will appeal to large enterprises. RIM is aiming the BlackBerry Storm at the consumer market, but the Storm is likely to become the first credible touch-screen device for mobile professionals, said Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research in New York, in a recent report.

The back-end infrastructure that RIM provides will draw enterprise IT shops to the Storm, he added.

Burden said the Storm will compare favorably to the iPhone with its multitouch capabilities and its touch screen. In both the Storm and the iPhone, the touch screen adds to the total experience in ways that other phones have not been able to do, he added.

And Burden said that the Storm might have an advantage over the iPhone there, since its touch screen has a tactile feedback capability unavailable in the iPhone.

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