RIM announces sequel to critically panned Storm

Research In Motion Ltd. is getting ready for its second try at the touch screen device market after unveiling the BlackBerry Storm2, a device which Canadians users could get their hands later this year.

While the original Storm device was heavily criticized in mobile reviews — with many pundits taking issue with the lack of Wi-Fi support and the “clickable” touch screen functionality — the device sold fairly well in North America.

Still, RIM obviously took these critical reviews to heart, attempting to address many of these flaws with the Storm2.

The clickable touch screen interface will make its return to the device, but RIM promises users will find it much easier to type this time around as the screen will stay in place when tapped. The company has also added Wi-Fi connectivity, “multi-touch” capabilities to the screen and improved the battery life.

RIM did not reveal a specific launch date for the device, but the company did announce that European wireless carrier Vodafone Group Plc will be given exclusive rights to launch the device first in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and later in other parts of Europe.

According to a Vodafone release, the device will be available in all of these markets in time for the “busy holiday gift buying period.” Heavy speculation from industry observers suggests that the device could street in the U.K. later this month or early next month.

The original Storm was carried by Telus Corp. and BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility, however, RIM has not officially announced any Canadian or U.S. carriers as of yet. An announcement for North American carriers is expected soon, with most mobile watchers expecting a November street date.

Ryan Reith, a senior research analyst with IDC Corp.’s mobile phone tracker group who’s gotten his hands on an early device, said that while the Storm2 has a similar look and feel to the original, the changes will be welcomed by hardcore users. He highlighted the Wi-Fi module, increased processor speed, and updated software stack as positives with the new device.

The biggest challenge for RIM, according to Reith, could be getting the device to appeal to users the second time around.
“It has relatively the same look and feel, so they’ll need to explain that we’ve added Wi-Fi, a better processor, and all those other things,” he said, adding that these features are often difficult to promote to the average smart phone consumer. “It will be interesting to see how they market the thing.” 
Related to this will be RIM’s ability to appeal to developers and expand its app store, he said, which has lagged behind efforts from Apple Inc. and Google Inc. 
An early review from the Wall Street Journal suggested that the Storm’s browser is still lacking when compared to RIM’s major touch screen rivals and the classic BlackBerry interface is showing even more signs of aging. 
Reith said that while the BlackBerry user interface could use an overhaul across all its devices — especially when directly compared to the iPhone — RIM would be unwise to develop a separate interface for touch screen models. 
“They pride themselves on the fact that you can pick up a Pearl flip or you could pick up the Storm and you’re going to get a relative experience across two completely different devices,” he said. “From their surveys and what they’ve told us, this is the message they’re getting from their user base and why their customers come back to BlackBerry.” 
For Ken Dulaney, a mobile and wireless analyst with Gartner Inc., despite the enhancements found on the Storm2, the product is still not going to be strong enough to compete with the iPhone or Pre on a user interface level.“RIM is more about e-mail, while Apple is more about apps,” he said.“From my perspective, (RIM) has improved the input a little, but it’s not yet at the same level of some other devices I have used, such as the iPhone.” 
The Storm2 enters the market facing even more competition than its predecessor did last year, Dulaney added. But taking into consideration the focus that carriers in North American have put on promotion for BlackBerry releases, this probably won’t impact RIM’s strong sales numbers with the device, he added.

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