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RIM chief calls buggy BlackBerry Storm launch normal

A late launch and buggy software are described as normal by Resesarch in Motion, but may have led the company to sell just half a million of its first touchscreen BlackBerry in the final weeks of 2008 — a fifth of what Apple's iPhone 3G reportedly achieved in the same quarter.

Anonymous people familiar with Verizon's phone sales tell the Wall Street Journal that about 500,000 Storm devices passed through the carrier's gates in the month after its launch on November 21st.

While its sales figures are deemed "promising," the smartphone missed more than half of the fall calendar quarter due to delays. Its results also purportedly pale in comparison to AT&T's for its flagship iPhone: although Apple in its latest quarterly report didn't break down iPhone 3G sales by region, the newspaper claims that AT&T will report selling about 2.4 million iPhones in the same period when its quarterly results are made public on Wednesday.

Moreover, the very mixed reception for the Storm is allegedly the byproduct of a launch strategy that put timing over quality. Sources for the Journal say that RIM and Verizon were so eager to launch the first touchscreen BlackBerry ahead of November 28th — also known as Black Friday and the biggest shopping day of the year — that the two started shipping units with glaring bugs that have included crashes, severe lag and other problems.

The early hiccups required a similarly rushed fix in December and are still being mended. RIM's co-CEO Jim Ballsillie notes that one upcoming patch will change the Storm's vertical keyboard from the prediction-heavy SureType format (also used on the BlackBerry Pearl) to a conventional QWERTY format like those on iPhones and a handful of other devices.

RIM and Verizon alike counter claims that the launch has been less than ideal. Balsillie doesn't divulge specific numbers but says that his Canada-based company is building about 250,000 Storms per week. He acknowledges that the software was flawed but that bugs in complex phones are the "new reality."

A Verizon spokesman in turn says that, despite claims to the contrary, return rates on the Storm are below 10 percent and that early results have "lived up to our expectations."

Even so, the build rates and customer acceptance are potentially sobering for the two firms, which paired up specifically to answer Apple's cellphone. At the height of its launch popularity during the summer, the iPhone 3G was rumored in production volumes as high as 800,000 per week, or more than three times RIM's present manufacturing rate.

RIM's current all-time high was in its September-to-November fiscal quarter, when it nearly topped Apple's iPhone 3G launch performance by shipping 6.7 million BlackBerries, albeit during a quarter in which the Storm had just a week on store shelves.