As much as I would like to write some creative, catchy remark about the BlackBerry Storm hitting Capitol Hill, I'll refrain and get straight to the point. Anyone working in or near the US Government (or any business, for that matter) realizes the importance of a BlackBerry, particularly in today's tech-driven world. The device is second to none when it comes to rapidly firing off e-mails to colleagues and staying connected, thanks to the keyboard and push e-mail technology. So, when the Storm launched, staffers were eager to try the first touchscreen device made by RIM.
But their excitement quickly turned into frustration. Rodell Mollineau, communications staff director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, highlighted one of the largest frustrations about the device for those that message frequently: “It’s not easy to send e-mails on that thing. It is not a good touch screen, and it’s not like the iPhone, where there are so many other great features to it.” One senior adviser on his team decided to purchase the device, even after hearing negative comments about it. Mollineau recalls walking in three days later to the staffer "slamming it down, saying, ‘I can’t get e-mail to work all right.'"
The same issues are plaguing the Republican side. Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, kept his for as long as it took to order one of the older devices - a week and a half. “Look, BlackBerry's have become a critical form of communication, and when you are trying to pound out e-mail after e-mail in very rapid fashion, it is difficult when you have a device that takes a lot longer to type.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, known for being a technology savvy member of Congress, echoed his comments. "I like the tactile nature of the actual keys."
The House Chief Administrative Officer's office is responsible for the implementation of technology on the Hill, and initially, the Storm passed the basic performance test that the group administers. However, after the complaints by staffers, CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura released the following statement:
“The Storm device is not ideal for certain users and has presented some valid functional challenges.”
Ventura's office has begun offering a class for those with the Storm, in hopes that they will become comfortable with the device and its features. His office still recommends that those interested in a touchscreen device carefully consider the pros and cons, however:
“The CAO strongly suggests that, before ordering the Storm, or phones with similar touch-screen capabilities, the customer become fully aware of a device’s limitations, particularly in an intensive work environment like the Hill.”
Of course, discouraging words such as those would never receive endorsement from the Verizon camp. Company spokeswoman Sherri Cunningham insists that the Storm is the company's best-selling BlackBerry to date. “We had lines out of door, and it continues to be one of the top sellers. There are some who love the touchscreen technology, and others are more wedded to that tactile feel. It really comes down to personal choice."
My take is this: the Storm is a device heavily geared towards media-centric consumers, not for those on Capitol Hill sending hundreds of e-mails daily. While Verizon's comments may hold water, I'm curious as to whether they're referring to the consumer side or the B2B accounts. Many interested in the Storm purchase the device without a realization of how fast they type. When we type a word - let's use "us" as an example - the finger is usually reaching down for the "s" as we're bringing up our finger from typing the "u." "Hunt and peck" is a thing of the past. Being a push touchscreen, the Storm doesn't recognize rapid finger gestures like a device with a physical keyboard does. If the screen is pushed in, then it's pushed in - it must be released before the next letter can be typed.
Much to the chagrin of RIM, when you hear Michael Steel, press secretary for House Minority Leader John Boehner wanting a BlackBerry Curve just so he can “avoid having to use the Storm,” one can see the disdain coming from business-oriented users.