Saturday 17 November 2018

BlackBerry Storm 9500 (2008)

Launched November 2008

By late 2008 it was nearly two years after the launch of the original iPhone, but there was still everything to play for in the newly popular smartphone market. Nokia had launched the 5800 XpressMusic, Google had partnered with HTC to make the T-Mobile G1 and even Windows phones were showing some useful developments. But nothing could quite manage the polish and attention to detail that Apple had.

So when RIM started working on a touchscreen device there was much anticipation that their expertise would come up with something class leading. When the BlackBerry Storm 9500 was announced in a blaze of publicity and it was dubbed an “iPhone Killer”.

On paper it looked pretty good. The screen was a bit smaller than the iPhone but had a higher resolution, the camera looked promising, it had GPS support, a removable battery and expandable memory but for some baffling reason there was no WiFi. Expectations about the software were very high, RIM having gained a reputation for making an effective platform for both businesses and consumers.

In reality the BlackBerry Storm was a disaster. One of the main problems was the screen – instead of making a simple touchscreen, RIM had tried to reproduce the feel of a traditional keypad using a system called SurePress, which simulated having to press down on the screen to do something. It was awful, in particular when used with the virtual keyboard. But it didn’t stop there, the entire user interface was a badly-implemented rehash of traditional BlackBerries and it lacked the ease-of-use that Apple was offering. Despite the proven strengths of RIM’s software offerings, the user experience was pretty abysmal.

But there was more – the camera should have been better than the iPhone but really only produced fuzzy approximations of real life, the lack of WiFi turned out to be a big deal, it was slow and had limited memory, and it was much chunkier than the iPhone to carry about.

In short, it was a disaster. Famously, Stephen Fry gave it a withering review while at the same time praising the BlackBerry Bold 9000, concluding that “the Storm could teach an industrial vacuum pump how to suck”. While other reviewers were perhaps less eloquent, the feelings were very widespread. And although initial sales were not bad, word quickly got around and it was widely recognised for the lemon it was.

RIM took on board the criticisms and fixed at least some of the problems with the Storm2 launched a year later. The Storm2 added WiFi and improved the user interface and tricky SurePress display, but the Storm’s reputation preceded it, and because the Storm2 was basically a bugfix the specifications were looking rather out-of-date in late 2009.

In 2010, BlackBerry tried again with the Torch which combined both the touchscreen and a slide-out physical keyboard. It was a moderate success, and quite popular with existing BlackBerry customers but it didn’t win anyone else over. In 2013, RIM tried again with the all-touch BlackBerry Z10 which ended up as an even bigger disaster than the Bold. Overall, you could say that RIM didn’t have much luck with touchscreen devices.

If you like to collect high-profile failures, the BlackBerry Storm is easy to come by and inexpensive with prices starting at £30 or so for good ones, and up to £90 for “new old stock” with the marginally more useful Storm2 coming in at a little more.

Image credits: RIM / BlackBerry

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