RIM CEO: Buggy OSes "new reality" of smartphones.


A lot went wrong for Blackberry when they rushed their touchscreen Storm handset to market. Despite selling 500,000 units in its first month of release, it shipped with an operating system that held together less like a mature operating system and more like an unstable element created in an atom smasher, existing for a mere microsecond before detonating into an atomic explosion. RIM released patches, but the damage was done, and the Storm's sales have plummeted... it is now very definitely known amongst most consumers as an iPhone also ran.

So has RIM learned their lesson? Not a lick of it. According to RIM's co-CEO Jim Balsillie, buggy smartphone OSes are "the new reality" because companies will rush to release the phones "by the skin of their teeth" both while the handsets are still relevant and before big sales days like "Black Friday."

Sorry, Jim, but that dog don't hunt. This is only the "new reality" of capitalist incompetence and greed, which is the same as the old reality. There's a perfectly viable secondary strategy available, which both Apple and Palm have followed with success: work in secret on a phone and an operating system that are excellent in and of themselves, without being compared to the competition. Design them both together; the limbic system to the body. Then work on them while they are done, and then release when you're damn sure you got it right. The world needs less Blackberry Storms and more Pres.

Blackberry Storm is off to a bumpy start [WSJ]

Join the Conversation


  1. There’s a perfectly viable tertiary strategy available, which Apple has followed with total success: Convince fanboys that the Phone is perfect in all regards and any failings are on the part of the user.

  2. I had to upgrade from 4.6.162 to 4.6.216 because using BBmaps frequently (and caching “Recent”) started causing problems that even a battery pull wouldn’t solve for more than 10 minutes — such as data service not working, the phone locking up, or crashing with an “app error”. .216 seems to have fixed it (and been rock solid since), although I’m looking forward to visual voice mail in post-.219 (although .219 itself has a nasty memory leak).

  3. Mr. Brownlee seems to be under the impression that prior to the Storm RIM was releasing quality operating systems. The steaming pile of crap running my Curve 8310 has made me truly regret going with a crackberry in protest of Apple’s exclusive deal with NSAT&T. I was the only party punished in that exchange, and continue to be so punished day after day. It’s like WinME without all the fit and finish.

  4. Upgrading the 8320 Curve from 4.4.x to 4.5.83 backported much of the new functionality added in 4.6 for the 9000 Bold, 95×0 Storm, and 8900 Curve — such as video recording and playing YouTube videos in the media player. RIM didn’t have to do that, and I imagine the limited hardware of the 83xx series made that rather challenging to pull off. Credit where credit’s due.

    Imperative stateful programming is inherently difficult, and software is never finished. (Most Google Apps never even leave beta!) Jim Balsillie is basically just citing von Neumann syndrome and the computer science equivalent of the economic calculation problem. c.f. Dunbar’s number

    In other words, as complexity grows linearly, the difficulty of programmers to track down and repair those bugs grows exponentially. This is a kind of counter-force to the Law of Accelerating Returns. This meta-problem and its solution is why Doug Engelbart wrote his thesis.

    I interpreted RIM’s CEO as explaining / describing the problem, rather than purely making excuses.

  5. Zuzu, that’s a very charitable interpretation. The problem he should be describing is that complex software requires more testing and debugging before it’s stable enough to be released. What he’s actually saying is that he can sucker customers into paying for a finished product but getting them to do his beta testing for him instead.

  6. @1 Monopole

    I’m not sure if millions to tens of millions of iPhones sold can quite be fully attributed to fanboy blindness, but that’s probably just the fanboy in me talking.

  7. The problem he should be describing is that complex software requires more testing and debugging before it’s stable enough to be released. What he’s actually saying is that he can sucker customers into paying for a finished product but getting them to do his beta testing for him instead.

    1.) How do you get real world data to feed into that “testing and debugging” without getting it into the hands of customers? The MI complication of COX-2 inhibitors (e.g. Vioxx) wasn’t detected until very large numbers of people were taking the drug for years; there’s a kind of Long Tail for bugs too.

    2.) Nobody forced anyone at gunpoint to buy a BlackBerry Storm. The bugs and complications faced by “early adopters” are a pretty well understood generalized phenomenon by now. On the laptop side, Apple customers know this dance pretty well by now, and anyone worried about buggy motherboard, weird heat issues, crashes, etc. avoids version 1 of any laptop Apple makes.

    On the phone side, perhaps Apple just handles them differently, by excluding features altogether, which has a different sort of psychological impact — ala loss aversion.

  8. “co-CEO Jim Ballsy”? Thats almost as cool as my name.

    Though seriously, Nokia also thinks they can get away with a buggy release OS only to fix it later. I’ve had several Series 60 phones at release and with the honourable exception of the E51 they didn’t get in proper shape until firmware release two or three. Especially I remember the N73, one of the first Series 60 v3 phones, it had to go about a year and about five firmware releases before most kinks were ironed out.
    And to think of all the poor people that have no idea what a firmware upgrade is or does and never removes the data cable from the package..

  9. There are any number of stable embedded O/S’s available to H/W developers. It’s the apps that are unstable.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *