Vodafone locks up BlackBerry Storm

The much-anticipated touchscreen BlackBerry now christened the 9500 Storm is set to land in Australia in early November – but a ‘lifetime exclusivity’ deal with Vodafone could kick up a storm of its own.

The Storm will only be available to Vodafone customers in Australia New Zealand Europe and India for the lifetime of the product. Verizon (which is 45%
owned by the Vodafone Group) has stitched up an identical ‘sole carrier’ arrangement for the Storm in the US.

While it’s not uncommon for carriers to enjoy an initial period of exclusivity on newly launched and highly desirable products this is usually limited to a matter of months.

However Vodafone Australia’s General Manager of Marketing Hugh Humphrey has confirmed that the 9500 Storm will be available in Australia only through Vodafone for the life of the product.

Humphrey was not able to share pricing or plan details but advised APC that a “pre-registration site will be available to consumers and business customers from tomorrow”. “It’ll make for a very exciting Christmas for Vodafone” Humphrey told APC.

RIM and Vodafone clearly hope to repeat the success of Apple’s exclusive US partnership with AT&T which has delivered a huge amount of customers and revenue to the telco.

And in the same way that Apple created the iPhone in collaboration with AT&T Vodafone is claiming to have been a driving force behind the inception of the Storm.

“The BlackBerry Storm has been purpose-built for the Vodafone Group and Verizon Wireless“ Humphrey told APC. “We’ve had a lot of success with RIM in the business market market and
for us the Storm is about taking that success into the
consumer market. We’ve worked closely with RIM on the specifications of the device.”

However that doesn’t extend to the Storm supporting 3G HSDPA (UMTS) technology in the 900MHz band which is what Vodafone is using to extend its national broadband network beyond the major cities and which is due for completion in the next three months. The Storm is strictly a 2100MHz 3G (7.2Mbps) and quad-band GSM handset.

Vodafone’s exclusivity deal for the 9500 Storm doesn’t rule out the release of a later model BlackBerry using the same touchscreen technology as the Storm and being available from other carriers – but if Vodafone has spent up big to lock out its
competitors RIM would certainly not rush to release a successor to the

As to the device itself the Storm has turned out to be pretty much what’s been expected – indeed leaked – in recent months. The standout feature is a ‘clickable’ resistive 3.25 inch touchscreen made from glass which RIM claims “responds much like a physical keyboard and also supports single-touch multi-touch and gestures for intuitive and efficient application navigation”.

The four familiar keys of any BlackBerry smartphone are the only physical controls on the device’s front panel with most of the remainder given over to the crisp 480 x 360 display. The on-screen virtual keyboard can run in both traditional QWERTY mode and the unique but surprisingly fast and accurate SureType layout of the BlackBerry Pearl family.

A built-in accelerometer flicks the display between portrait and landscape views the later of which includes a wider QWERTY keypad as needed. Like the Bold the Storm has 1GB of inbuilt memory and a microSD card slot for adding up to 16GB per wafer.

The rest of the roster is what you’d expect from a modern smartphone – assisted GPS a 3.2 megapixel digital camera with geotagging wide support for audio and video (including iTunes synchronisation in Windows and soon Mac) a 3.5 mm stereo jack and support for Bluetooth stereo. Wi-Fi is noticeably absent from the call sheet. RIM estimates the Storm’s 1400 mAhr battery as good for approximately six hours of talk time on 3G networks and 15 days on standby.

As always APC is working to bring you Australia’s first hands-on review of the BlackBerry 9500 Storm so stay tuned!