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For BlackBerry addicts, RIM is 'chipping away our faith'

Mark Milian, CNN
Some BlackBerry fans are fed up after a recent network outage that knocked out e-mail and Messenger access.
Some BlackBerry fans are fed up after a recent network outage that knocked out e-mail and Messenger access.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A RIM outage this week sparked some outrage among BlackBerry customers
  • RIM faces competitive pressure, most recently from the iPhone 4S
  • BlackBerry addicts are threatening to ditch their longtime phone of choice

(CNN) -- The love affair between BlackBerry devotees and their mobile communicators is becoming strained, and some of them made the quarrel very public this week after a service outage.

Fans often discuss the intimate details about why they are attached at the hip to smartphones made by Research in Motion -- the clack-clack of the tiny keys, the feel of the trackball or square pad on their thumbs, the informative indicator light calling out for attention. They affectionately call it the "CrackBerry."

After the recent outage, which RIM says was caused by a server error, some longtime BlackBerry users are writing goodbye letters on blogs, and on message boards operated and frequented by the CrackBerry collective. Richie, a British member of a Web forum called CrackBerry, summed up the concerns, saying RIM has been "chipping away our faith" in the company's ability to satisfy customers.

In interviews with reporters, RIM executives issued apologies, which they also made public in a recorded video, but they avoided questions about whether they planned to offer incentives as compensation for the millions of customers affected by the outage. RIM did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

By comparison, after Sony restored its network this summer following a lengthy outage, the company compensated users of its subscription service, and gave free games and movie rentals to all users.

Netflix has offered small discounts to customers affected by technical troubles.

Despite RIM's lack of public comment, an AT&T customer in Cleveland wrote on the CrackBerry message boards that he received a credit on his bill when he called to complain about the outage.

RIM customers still holding onto their faith in the company should pay close attention to a conference being held in San Francisco next week. The pressure on BlackBerry from competitors is mounting, and RIM's promised next-generation models, with dual-core processors and large touchscreens, are overdue.

A CrackBerry forum member, posting under the alias N8star, says he is giving up his BlackBerry Torch 9850 "after years of being treated like a battered spouse by RIM," he wrote. His wife urged him to switch to an iPhone, and he says he will acquiesce.

Jim Kerstetter, the executive editor for technology website CNET, published an editorial on Thursday titled "RIM, you're dead to me now." He writes that he has defended BlackBerry, despite the lack of multimedia features, but that the recent outage has spurred him to switch phones and operating systems.

RIM still has a comfortable hold on corporate buyers, who snap up large orders for employees. Security experts tend to trust BlackBerry more than other smartphone platforms.

However, even tech departments in companies are becoming more lenient on this policy. David Hurst, who was waiting in line to buy an iPhone 4S for his wife at a store in Atlanta, said her company "has finally approved for her to switch from BlackBerry to iPhone, and her BlackBerry is just falling apart."

In the now crucial mobile-consumer market, Google and Apple both lead BlackBerry in sales, a trend expected to continue into the crucial holiday shopping season. A combined 69% of smartphone buyers say they plan to get either an Android phone or iPhone, while only 8% indicated that BlackBerry was at the top of their shopping lists, according to an NPD study from this summer.

RIM is "struggling to compete against Apple and Android," NPD analyst Linda Barrabee said in a phone interview. "The outage comes at a really opportune time. ... You've got, during the same week, the availability of the iPhone 4S."

Among the dedicated Apple followers who lined up outside stores around the world to buy the new iPhone on Friday, some reluctant people waiting at stores told CNN that they were there because they believed BlackBerry was too far behind the technological curve.

Outside the Apple Store in Los Gatos, California, a few spots behind Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in line, Karol McBrian held a spot for her son. She is a longtime BlackBerry user, but she said she is changing allegiances. She will be inheriting her son's iPhone 4.

Teresa Sparks, a 41-year-old nurse in Atlanta, waited in a line across the country from McBrian to buy her iPhone, which will replace a BlackBerry. She is especially excited about Siri, the voice-assistant technology that Apple has promoted heavily. "I don't know who made it; I don't care," she said. "I just want the personal assistant."

CNN's Umika Pidaparthy contributed to this report.

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