Spoutin' Off: The Storm looks a lot like an iPhone

By Michael Rau

November 25, 2008

'Tis the season for smartphones, or at least so you'd think by all the recent goings-on in that particular technological thread.

Market leader Nokia is also introducing a least one new smartphone model into their lineup in time for the holidays. Other manufacturers are pushing out new product with varying degrees of "smartness" as well.

Most of the current buzz is about Blackberry's new entry, called the “Storm”, which was just released, but only through Verizon. Many industry watchers have been waiting to see if it's a potential iPhone killer.

It also demonstrates the impact that the iPhone is having on the market as the Storm bears more than a passing resemblance to that device.

At a glance, you'll see a display screen that takes up the entire face of the device, less enough space for the traditional answer, off, and navigation buttons found on other Blackberries.

Gone is the tiny QWERTY keyboard that Blackberry pioneered. It's replaced by a keyboard on the device's new touch screen, which bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the iPhone. in a clever twist, the device makes a tactilely perceptible clicking sound, resembling the noise from your computer keyboard, when you push a button on the screen.

Menu items and applications that you would previously have used the mini-trackball to navigate to can now be accessed via the touch screen.

As with the iPhone, Google's recently introduced G1, and others, the screen has an orientation sensor, so if you turn the device sideways, it flips the picture 90 degrees to reflect that change. This feature will mean a lot more on both the Storm and the G1 once their operating systems catch up with the iPhone.

Also, these screens are not “multi-touch”, as with the iPhone, which allows users of that device to carry out complex action on the screens themselves. Apple has a tremendous head start on this technology, but I expect that other manufacturers will catch up.

What I would guess is the Storm's major selling point is the degree of penetration in the professional market that Blackberry already enjoys.

The iPhone, which has been a huge hit with consumers, has yet to make significant penetration into the corporate marketplace. Blackberry has dominated that market segment for years, and IT managers are familiar and comfortable when it comes to integrating the Blackberry into their corporate infrastructures.

If you want a touch-screen smartphone, I'd guess it'll be much easier to talk your IT folks into providing you with a Storm than an iPhone.

Others will be able to do more in-depth comparisons and reviews than I can here, but the Storm has one function built in that's absolutely awesome, and a huge pet-peeve of mine with the iPhone.

The Storm doubles as a modem for your laptop.

How simple, huh? The infuriating thing is that the same folks at Null River who created my favorite iPhone app (called "Tuner", an iPhone app that lets you stream Internet Radio programming over your iPhone) also created an app that turned an iPhone into a laptop modem.

Citing an agreement with carrier AT&T, Apple rejected the app.

That's just stupid, on the part of both Apple and AT&T.

Speaking of the G1, the device has apparently enjoyed a pretty successful rollout, with the only significant complaints having to do with downloading and installing third-party applications, a la the iPhone's App Store.

These are just developmental issues that will be worked out. The phone itself seems like a decent device, but as I've mentioned before, what makes the G1 special isn't the hardware. It's the Android open-source operating system. Its open-source nature means that it could eventually surpass the iPhone OSX based operating system in terms of functionality if Google lets open-source uber-coders have at it.

In my previous column on the G1, I had mentioned that Motorola was looking at Android as a possible way to revive its slumping model line. Since that column, Motorola has announced that it is abandoning development of devices using all other operating systems to focus on developing smart devices based on Android. I wish them well as I've always favored Motorola phones (I still use my four-year old Razr and love it).

If you're contemplating investing in a smartphone, I hope I've provided some food for thought. But I do want to mention one more thing.

There's little doubt that Apple feels the heat of competition, and iPhone sales are slowing. Rumor has it that Apple may cut the price of a new iPhone by as much as half before the end of the year, thus making it half the $199 cost of a Storm.

With that in mind, you may want to hold off a while before buying that new Storm, just to see if the rumor turns out to be true.

Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.

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