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RIM replies to damning New York Times article

The BlackBerry maker claims the article is full of inaccuracies. That's a bit of a stretch.

(Photo: Euardo Munoz/Landov)

Research In Motion has responded to a New York Times article published Monday claiming that BlackBerry owners now see their devices as a point of embarrassment. The article, which according to the newspaper’s website is its most emailed, quotes a number of despondent  BlackBerry users, one of whom goes so far as to say he’s considering using the phone as a paperweight once his new iPhone arrives. Needless to say, RIM doesn’t like the piece. Here’s the email they sent out yesterday:

The New York Times article (“The BlackBerry as Black Sheep” – 16 October 2012) contains a number of inaccuracies and lacks the balance RIM and our 80 million BlackBerry customers expect.

Here are the facts:

  • BlackBerry users can make reservations on both OpenTable and Yelp;
  • The current BlackBerry browser is one of the fastest mobile browsers on the market and has won accolades in head-to-head comparisons;
  • The number of BBM users continues to rise;
  • BlackBerry is the world’s top mobile platform for social networking;
  • GPS and mapping are built in to current BlackBerry handsets, as is near-field communication;
  • BlackBerry boasts the most robust and secure global network.

We listen closely to our users, happy and otherwise, and incorporate their feedback into everything we do ­ including the upcoming BlackBerry 10, which will be the first ground-up platform built for a new era of truly mobile computing.

So what to make of RIM’s response? Was the New York Times piece rife with inaccuracies, as RIM is claiming?

At least one of RIM’s gripes is legitimate, that the piece lacks balance, but the claim that the article “contains a number of inaccuracies” appears to be mostly, and perhaps ironically, inaccurate. There’s maybe one, this line:

More indignity comes in having to outsource tasks like getting directions, booking travel, making restaurant reservations and looking up sports scores to their exasperated iPhone and Android-carting partners, friends and colleagues.

As RIM’s email points out, current BlackBerrys have improved web browsing, maps, GPS and apps, so it’s true that BlackBerry users with newer models don’t have to outsource this stuff—but that doesn’t mean they won’t feel compelled to. For example, there’s no pinch-to-zoom on Google Maps and the small screens on most models don’t lend themselves well to maps. Indeed, one woman in the story says she sometimes feels like a personal assistant to her BlackBerry-owning husband.

That said, a problem with the article is that it never specifies any of the models of the BlackBerrys talked about in the piece. Considering that RIM is struggling to sell its newest models and that the owners being quoted are sick of theirs, it’s very likely they’re complaining about older phones. It’s also worth noting that, unlike Apple, RIM sells high-, mid- and low-range models. In other words, we don’t know if the user has a brand-new Torch with a large touch screen or an older, slower Curve—but it’s probably closer to the latter.

RIM’s third point, that the number of BBM users is rising, may be technically true, but it’s a bit misleading. There’s a line in the Times’ article about how users are seeing fewer and fewer of their friends on BBM, and presumably this is what RIM is trying to refute in its email. Sure, RIM is growing its subscriber base, but that’s taking place in emerging markets—not in America. This article is about Americans. As the article points out, BlackBerry’s market share in the U.S. is down to 5% from 50% three years ago. In short, if you’re American, your BBM network has indeed shrunk.

The email’s fourth point, that “BlackBerry is the world’s top mobile platform for social networking,” is confusing and a little off-topic. Clearly, Android and iOS are not being counted as mobile platforms for social networking, which is contentious if BlackBerry is counting itself. After all, I manage contacts and text with my Android device—why is that different than BBMing?

Then there’s Facebook, which just announced it has 600 million mobile users; that’s a lot more than the 80 million subscribers BlackBerry has. So Facebook’s mobile platform clearly trumps BlackBerry. Facebook isn’t mobile-exclusive, but RIM’s claim doesn’t necessitate that. I’m sure RIM could add a plethora of conditions for how they’re defining “mobile platform for social networking” until, finally, they come out on top—but it gets ridiculous at a point. For example, I’m quite sure that I’m the tallest and handsomest 26-year-old Trevor Melanson living in Toronto, Ontario—but that shouldn’t impress you.

The last point in RIM’s email, that “BlackBerry boasts the most robust and secure global network,” is just rhetoric.

That all said, RIM’s claim that the piece lacks balance is fair—only one source in the article talks about his BlackBerry positively, noting that he prefers its physical keyboard. And the piece is heavily anecdotal. Still, RIM’s rebuttal isn’t very potent.

Update: RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has also written a letter to The New York Times. Like the email that was sent out, it claims the article lacks balance, but does not challenge it on accuracy. Read it here.

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