BlackBerry Storm seen as enterprise-ready

A funny thing happened on the way to marketing the BlackBerry Storm, Research in Motion Ltd.'s new wireless device that goes on sale later this year by Verizon Wireless.

While marketing experts, and apparently even RIM, expect the upcoming touch-screen device will 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 for large businesses, which owes much of its success to the security it offers through its Network Operations Center (NOC) in Canada.

Both Verizon Wireless and RIM today would not say when the device will be sold in stores and its price tag, although many bloggers said it will be 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.

"It's kind of interesting, actually," said Brenda Boyd Raney, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless in an interview. "You would have initially thought the Storm was for the consumer, with its video capabilities and HTML browsing."

But Raney said enterprise customers have lately shown great interest when Verizon Wireless sales representatives have shown it to them in meetings over the past month or so.

"BlackBerry stands for quality to the enterprise, and the enterprise customer is also a consumer outside of the 9 to 5 job," she said. "We are finding enterprise customers liking the device and are very enthusiastic about it."

The device 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," she said. Raney said enterprise users also don't seem deterred by two outages on parts of the RIM network in the past three years.

"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.

"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.

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 synchronization in the Storm to iTunes, 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 due to 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," but Ridley said he still has been able to solve BlackBerry problems by calling RIM directly, bypassing Verizon Wireless if necessary.

Some analysts also say the Storm will appeal to enterprises. RIM is targeting the BlackBerry Storm at the consumer market, but it 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 shops to the Storm, he added.

Burden said the Storm will compare favorably to the iPhone for its multi-touch 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 Storm might have an advantage there as well, since its touch screen has a tactile feedback capability unavailable from the iPhone.

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