Launched but limited – Telus and Bell bring BlackBerry Storm to Canada

Canadians can now get a hold of the BlackBerry Storm 9530 after both Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility released the smartphone in retail stores yesterday.

Telus unveiled the Storm on Monday after an advertising campaign promoted the device as a coveted stocking stuffer with TV commercials and billboards. Bell’s promotion of the device has been more muted, and is making the phone available nationally to consumers today. Both companies are describing the launch as “limited” with the device only available in certain stores, and in limited quantities on the Web.


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“I can’t share the exact number [of devices available], but it is limited,” says Julie Smithers, a spokesperson with Bell. “It will be available nationally.”

A Telus press release describes a similar scenario, with more stores offering the device in January.

At the launch party in Toronto on Monday, Telus executives announced that limited quantities of the BlackBerry Storm would be available at “select Telus stores in Canada” in time for the holiday season.

“Full product rollout will take place in January,” said Rizwan Jamal, senior vice-president of marketing, Telus Consumer Solutions.  

With Telus and Bell launching the device around the same time, there’s a great deal of pressure on both carriers to add something unique to the mix.   

A good portion of Jamal’s presentation at the launch party focused on the Telus value add.

For instance, he said “for a limited time” customers buying the Storm from Telus would receive exclusive multimedia content on a preloaded 8 GB MicroSD Card.

This content, he said, has been made available through Telus’ collaboration with Arts & Crafts (an independent record label based in Toronto) and featuring songs and videos from Canadian performers such as Stars, The Stills, Broken Social Scene, Amy Millan, Apostle of Hustle, Constantines and Gentleman Reg.

Jamal characterized the Storm as a device that can be used globally, and that offers a cavalcade of capabilities suitable for a variety of environments – consumer and business.

But one feature the Storm doesn’t offer is WiFi.

At the time of the U.S. launch this issue was raised by several commentators.

In response, Research in Motion (RIM) said   given the Storm’s other capabilities – Bluetooth, GPS, quad-band EDGE, single-band UMTS/HSPA, dual-band CDMA/EVDO Rev A – there is no room for Wi-Fi.

It’s a view that was echoed by a Telus executive at the launch party on Monday.

Speaking with ITBusiness.ca, Judy Mellett, director of product and program realization at Telus downplayed the absence of WiFi on the Storm and suggested that wouldn’t have a big impact on buying decisions.

“This device is packed with features,” Mellett said. “It’s got e-mail capabilities, a 3.2 mega pixel camera with auto-focus and video capture, a music player, video play capability; it’s got a great browser. And it’s a roaming device that works virtually in every country you can travel to. So we think it’s got everything you really need.”

But that’s an argument many commentators aren’t fully buying.

“[The absence of WiFi] seems like a big mistake in my book,” says Networkworld blogger Keith Shaw. Shaw says it’s “short-sighted” to omit WiFi just because carriers want users to access their mobile broadband network.   

“Having used several smart phones with WiFi on [them], I’d have to say that WiFi is a must-have…it makes the user experience that much better and data access goes that much faster.”

Other industry observers note availability of WiFi on the iPhone gives the Apple device an advantage over the Storm.

Telus’ Mellett, meanwhile, says the Storm’s productivity features will make it very attractive to knowledge workers.

Apart from e-mail, calendar and fast download speeds, she noted that the BlackBerry Storm on Telus also comes with DataViz Documents To Go an office suite that includes versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint for handhelds.

A point to note, though, is that the Standard Edition of Documents To Go comes pre-installed on the BlackBerry Storm. This version allows you to view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.

To be able to create new documents, you need to upgrade to the Premium Edition.

The latest device from Research in Motion (RIM) is different from its past BlackBerry incarnations. It loses the hardware QWERTY keyboard that has been its trademark since the Waterloo-based company established its reputation as being the go-to enterprise mobile device. In its place is a touch screen keyboard that users can depress to click like a button.

“A limited launch can have a positive and a negative effect,” says Roberta Fox, the senior partner at Fox Group Telecom Consulting in Mount Albert, Ont. “It could make it special and exclusive, or it could just annoy people.”

Americans got their hands on the Storm as early as Nov. 21 from Verizon Wireless. After several less than positive reviews of the Storm in the U.S. media and some users expressing unsatisfactory experiences, a firmware patch was released yesterday to update the device and address some of those concerns.

According to documents obtained by Computerworld (US), Verizon told its customers that the upgrade, called Storm OS 4.7.0.75 (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.

Canadians will not need to install a new patch. Both Bell and Telus phones are already running the updated code, according to RIM sources.

“That’s key, because RIM has been knocked by early reviewers because of what it could and couldn’t do,” says Kevin Restivo, a senior research analyst at IDC Canada. “It’s incumbent upon RIM to show how that new software has really worked out the hiccups seen by U.S. users.”

Telus pricing has the Storm at $249.99 for new three-year contracts, $449.99 for two-year contracts, $549.99 for one-year contracts, and $599.99 with no contract. Consumers must sign on to a combined voice and data plan that is $45 monthly if they live in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta or Quebec, or $40 monthly if they live in other provinces.

Bell is advertising a three-year contract price of $249.95 for the phone on a minimum $45 monthly plan. The price without a contract at Bell is $699.99.

The price puts the Storm about $50 above that of the iPhone 3G offered by Rogers Wireless. Many comparisons have been drawn between the two touch screen phones, but the price of the hardware may not matter much, according to Restivo.

“I’m not sure the hardware price is much of an incentive or a deterrent,” he says. “The people that are going to buy this want the touch screen experience with the RIM business activities that the iPhone doesn’t do right now, or doesn’t do as well.”

The Storm is coming to Canada more than two weeks after the U.S. launch and the first run of devices likely won’t meet demand.

But the timing of the launch didn’t have anything to do with waiting on BlackBerry’s new firmware to be available, according to Judy Mellett, a Telus spokesperson. The launch is being described as “limited” because of the number of devices available to be put in the market.

“”It’s limited just because there’s so much demand for the product, and they’re just not coming off the line as fast enough,” she says. “It was an aggressive plan to get it out before the holidays, but we did deliver.”

It’s not unusual for a cell phone manufacturer to have a limited amount of new devices on hand, IDC’s Restivo says. This helps drive the demand among early adopters of the technology.

“It’s obviously designed to drive demand to the product,” he says.

But the limited launch on a smartphone device also means the carrier can focus on doing to a proper job of provisioning new voice and e-mail accounts for their customers, Fox says.

In the end, it could appeal to business users who’ve suffered iPhone envy since the summer launch of Apple’s device.

“The iPhone hasn’t been allowed to come into the enterprise,” Fox says. “But business users have wanted some of those consumer features, so this BlackBerry is a good solution for that.”

With files from Matt Hamblen, Computerworld US

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