While I don’t blame Research In Motion Ltd. co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie for being angry about Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs’ accusation of antenna issues with the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the two RIM executives can’t be surprised that Apple chose to play that card.


And instead of joining its smart phone rivals such as Samsung, HTC Corp., Nokia Corp. and Motorola Corp. to fire back at Apple, perhaps RIM should acknowledge the deeper issue: that while no smart phone vendor is perfect, at least some are trying to be.


Jump into my DeLorean for a second and travel back with me to late 2008 and the launch of RIM’s first touchscreen device, the BlackBerry Storm. Many critics charged the phone with being awkward, buggy, and ultimately, very disappointing. Nominate someone you work with for a ComputerWorld Canada IT Leadership Award

Shortly before the device reached shelves, RIM was already promising a software update “within weeks.” The company expected the bugs because they were trying to get the phone out before the holiday shopping season.


In response to all the negative reviews, Balsillie said the “new reality” of smart phones is they will ship buggy and be fixed by software updates later.


Now let’s tie this in to Apple’s current troubles.


After countless complaints from the user community and several high-profile reviewers, Apple’s much anticipated response to “Antennagate” was poorly executed. At an event where Apple should have stuck to offering up a free fix to the problem and apologize for the problem, the company did what too many companies do and started making excuses.


In a possible attempt to deflect the issue away from Apple, Jobs singled out phones from BlackBerry, Samsung and HTC to argue that even competing companies have been plagued with reception issues caused by physical blockages.


All the companies mentioned took issue with the accusations, but RIM’s response — which referred to Apple’s actions as “unacceptable” — jumped out at me.


“Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation,” according to a statement, co-signed by both Lazaridis and Balsillie.


The statement argues that RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used on the iPhone 4 and has instead used “innovative designs which reduce the risk of dropped calls.”


“One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smart phone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”


Now while I don’t know much about cell phone antenna engineering, I do know that dropped calls and poor reception continue to be “a challenge for the whole industry,” as Jobs said.


Back and forth finger pointing about which company has the bigger antenna testing lab is silly, but at least in Apple’s case, they are trying to shed light on what they perceive as a real problem for the industry.


After the Storm launch, Balsillie basically said consumers will have to get used to buggy phones. I can’t envision Jobs ever saying anything like that, nor should he.


The motivation behind Jobs’ name dropping was likely to spread the blame, something he shouldn’t have done at a high-profile news conference. The only positive is that the whole fiasco will definitely entice all vendors to step their game up on antenna performance.


If Jobs saved those comments for another day, he would have gotten a similar reaction from vendors like RIM and Nokia, but perhaps he wouldn’t also be feeling the heat from bloggers and others in the user community.


But when all is said and done, I’d rather have my handset maker focused on shipping the best product that it can, rather than knowingly shipping a buggy product — a practice that largely hasn’t been seen in Apple history.


Here’s to not seeing it in RIM’s future either.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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