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David Zax

A View from David Zax

BlackBerry Outages Spread to U.S.

RIM, already struggling to retain the mobile market, sustains a heavy, self-inflicted blow.

  • October 13, 2011

Many people might like the idea of a holiday from their smartphones, but they’d want to choose just when to take their vacation days.

Research in Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry, has foisted a smartphone holiday on its customers without asking their permission. BlackBerry service first started causing trouble in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa on Monday. By Tuesday, outages had spread to South America. By Wednesday, it reached the US and Canada. It’s mostly SMS service and Internet connectivity that’s suffering, according to CNN. Phone service seems to be mostly working fine.

The vast public customer griping line that is Twitter erupted in snark. User @ThatEricAlper tweeted, “What did one BlackBerry say to the other BlackBerry? Nothing.” “If you’re seeing this message on your #Blackberry, it’s probably early November,” wrote another. “Dear Blackberry” and “#OtrosUsosParaElBlackberry” (Spanish for “Other uses for the BlackBerry”) were trending topics worldwide on Twitter. Those “other uses” began where you’d expect–paperweight, bookmark–and have steadily grown more inventive. “Put it in ‘airplane mode’ and throw it out the window,” wrote one. A dedicated website, isblackberrystillbroken.com, cropped up.

On Tuesday, RIM explained the source of its technical difficulties: “messaging and browsing delays being experienced by BlackBerry users in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure,” the company announced. “Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested.” It added that it was working to process the backlog of data that had accrued during the outage, and it added the requisite semi-euphemistic corporate boilerplate apology “for any inconvenience.”

The BlackBerry was once the leading corporate smartphone; the mighty have since fallen. In September, RIM reported a dismal quarter: net income was down by 60%, prices on the BlackBerry had been dropped, and the company had just spent half of its cash. As corporate workers grew to prefer their personal iPhones or Android devices, RIM’s grip on the corporate market slackened. RIM was never quite able to translate its success in the corporate world to success with individual consumers; its PlayBook, an iPad “competitor,” failed to move in significant numbers, and price slashing followed. According to Reuters, and perhaps common sense, investors have lately been pressuring RIM for “a break-up, sale or change of management.”

Meanwhile, to a lot of BlackBerry users, that iPhone 4S must be looking mighty tempting right now.

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