First reactions from buyers of Research in Motion's newest BlackBerry Storm smart phone have been "lukewarm," and nowhere near the satisfaction ratings of Apple's iPhone, a market research analyst said Tuesday.
"It's not that the BlackBerry Storm is a bad phone," said Paul Carton, research director at ChangeWave Research. "It's just that the initial launch has glitches which have resulted in a mediocre satisfaction rating, while consumers are already trained to expect the very highest standards from their BlackBerries."
In its most recent consumer smart-phone survey, ChangeWave found that the Storm's satisfaction rating was more akin to a mid-tier handset and significantly below that of people who own Apple's iPhone. Just 33% of new Storm owners, for example, said they were "very satisfied" with the touch screen smart phone, compared to 77% of iPhone owners who answered with that phrase in a July 2008 survey ChangeWave conducted less than a month after Apple launched the iPhone 3G.
Likewise, 14% of Storm owners said they were "unsatisfied" with their new BlackBerry, compared with 5% of iPhone buyers who gave that response in July.
But the Storm is not all RIM has to offer, Carton said, as he argued that the Waterloo, Ontario, company is in a strong position leading into 2009.
"For the first time in a year, RIM's next 90 days are looking very, very strong," said Carton, "even in relation to Apple. Overall, BlackBerry represents the top of the line. And although Storm started off looking like a mid-tier smart phone in terms of its initial consumer reaction, that's not the end of the story."
According to the survey ChangeWave conducted earlier this month to measure future purchasing plans, 39% of the consumers who said they would buy a smart phone in the next 90 days pegged a BlackBerry as their chosen handset. That number was up from 30% in September, which in turn was an increase over June's 23%.
Apple's iPhone, meanwhile, captured just 30% of the planned smart phone purchases in the most recent survey, down from 34% in September and off dramatically from the whopping 56% in June, more than a month before Apple actually launched the iPhone 3G but after it had disclosed many of its details.
The downturn in stated plans to buy an iPhone is understandable, said Carton, who characterized it as a "settling down" of consumer interest in Apple's device. "Yes, the industry is driven by new product releases, but the place that Apple is in now, that's a wonderful place to be," he said. "They'll have a great quarter [in iPhone sales], even in the midst of an unbelievably bad economy."
Even so, said Carton, "The ball has shifted back into BlackBerry's court. The demand [for BlackBerry] is there, that's part one," he added, referring again to the 39% share that RIM captured in the future buying plans survey. "The other side of the coin is that RIM has several different new models, not just the Storm. And their overall satisfaction rating is over 50%. RIM and Apple are the only ones at that level."
RIM not only recently launched the Storm, but has also debuted the BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Pearl Flip in the last three months.
Apple and RIM will continue to battle it out for smart phone market share throughout 2009, Carton predicted. "The smart phone industry is big enough to support two monster winners," he said.
RIM's strength relative to upstart Apple will, he said, depend to some extent on whether the former can address the complaints users have reported about the Storm. "Competitive pressures may have caused the Storm to be launched before it was quite ready for prime time," Carton said. "But if RIM can rapidly fix its initial glitches and bugs, the survey shows that this new offering, along with RIM's other recently released models, will provide accelerated momentum in 2009.
"Apple had glitches with the iPhone, too. If the iPhone couldn't get a dial-tone, it wouldn't be where it is now," Carton said, talking about complaints immediately after the July 2008 launch of the iPhone 3G, when users griped about the phone's inability to acquire and hold a signal. Apple updated the iPhone's software in September to solve the problem.
But as RIM and Apple make the smart phone market a two-company tussle, others, most notably Palm, have been left behind, Carton noted. In the December survey, only 9% of consumers who said they planned to purchase a smart phone in the next 90 days said they would buy a device from Palm. As recently as a year ago, Palm's share of future purchases stood at 23%.
"With Apple and RIM now controlling two-thirds of the smart phone market, smaller and weaker players such as Palm have proven unable to compete," Carton observed.
Just yesterday, Palm received a US$100 million shot of venture capital cash.