The last thing Research in Motion wants to talk about is this month’s disastrous service outage. Well, except for the iPhone.
Speaking at a BlackBerry’s annual developer conference on Tuesday, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis devoted a single minute of his keynote address to the PR disaster, which saw millions of BlackBerry users unplugged from the company’s mail and instant messaging services.
“The worldwide outages we experienced last week were unfortunate,” Lazaridis said. “We restored full service as quickly as we could. Now, we’re focused on the root cause analysis, our internal systems audits, and making this right for our more than 70 million BlackBerry users around the world.”
Then, noticeably relieved, he launched into an hourlong sales pitch for the company’s new generation of phones and tablets, which will be powered by a brand new operating system called BBX.
If RIM wanted to flame out in a global avalanche of bad press, it could hardly have picked a better time for the outage, which came just days before Apple’s iPhone went on sale here in the U.S. last Friday.
Apple spent Monday gloating about how it had sold a record-breaking 4 million iPhones over the weekend. RIM, by contrast, kicked off the week begging customers for forgiveness and offering them $100 worth of free apps to say sorry.
Apple’s name went largely unmentioned at the conference, at least by RIM’s executives and partners. Onstage, it was obliquely hinted at a few times, always in negative terms — always called “the other guy.”
Despite RIM’s very bad week, here at BlackBerry DevCon — where software developers shell out $949 for a three-day immersion in the latest RIM technologies — nobody thinks that enterprise customers are going to jump ship anytime soon.
“The business people are going to stay because of the security of the equipment and the platform,” says Cesar Gonzalez, a director with Sitmo, a developer of consumer applications based in the Dominican Republic.
Corporate customers were frustrated by the lack of communication, especially in the early hours of the outage, says Chris Miller, director of messaging and collaboration with Connectria, a St. Louis company that manages BlackBerry Enterprise Servers. “It’s not like we got an e-mail that said, ‘Hey, the datacenter is experiencing issues. This is what’s happening.’”
RIM was caught flatfooted by the wildly successful app stores set up by Apple and then Google, but for big companies that want to keep corporate secrets from prying eyes, the BlackBerry is still the best choice, Miller says.
But customers want better answers about what exactly happened last week, and what steps RIM is taking to prevent it from ever happening again. BlackBerry has blamed the outage on a pair of failures with its core switches and backups. The company hasn’t responded to requests for more details on the incident.
Even a self-declared BlackBerry super fanboy thinks that the $100 app giveaway is a bit of a “desperate move.” Julien Dias jumped out of a plane while using his Blackberry in order to win tickets to the conference. He and a friend are at the show, lurking in the hallways in hopes of buttonholing a RIM executive and scoring a sponsorship for a Latin American BlackBerry promotional campaign they’ve dreamt up. Like any self-respecting super fanboy, Dias mostly sees the bright side to the outage, which has already been credited with lowering traffic accidents in Dubai.
“It shows that people rely on their phones a lot,” he says.
Photo: Natalie Jordan/Flickr