By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Verizon Wireless is betting on the new BlackBerry Storm for the all-important holiday season, hoping the highly anticipated smartphone can compete against the iPhone offered by rival wireless provider AT&T Inc.
The No. 2 U.S. mobile service, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, heavily promoted four different phones last holiday season, but its focus this year is directed firmly at Research In Motion Ltd’s first touch-screen phone.
"This is our big holiday season phone," said Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney, adding the Storm was a game changer and Verizon would do more marketing for it than any other phone in the fourth quarter.
Both the Storm and Apple Inc’s iPhone cost $200 for customers who agree to a two-year service contract and both come with a built-in camera, and music and video players.
But the Storm, which goes on sale in the United States on November 21, has a different approach to touch-screen typing that RIM hopes will win over people addicted to the keypads on other BlackBerry e-mail devices.
Instead of tapping lightly on the screen, as with iPhone, Storm users have to press firmly until they feel a physical click more similar to the experience of typing on keypads.
And while iPhone users make a pinching motion with two fingers to reduce or enlarge a Web page, Storm users tap twice to zoom in or tap a magnifying glass icon to zoom out.
The Storm is the latest bet on the consumer market for RIM, which has long-dominated the corporate world with BlackBerry.
Verizon Wireless also hopes the Storm will help it win over consumers, as well as business clients eyeing touch-screens.
The idea is that, if a company has already set up its security and e-mail systems to support the BlackBerry, buying a Storm would be easier than trying to make systems compatible with the iPhone, which also supports corporate e-mail.
Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said Apple’s consumer fans would probably still go for the iPhone, but big corporations or consumers who are looking to move to Verizon’s network would likely favor Storm.
"Companies that insist on using BlackBerry will be thrilled with the Storm … Quite frankly it’s sexy — having a big touch screen with a BlackBerry," he said, adding that over half of new BlackBerry buyers are consumers these days.
Aside from corporate email, which is RIM’s area of expertise, Greengart said the Storm’s Web navigation works very well compared with the G1, made by HTC Corp and uses the Android operating system from Google Inc, and LG Electronics Inc’s Incite. The G1 is carried by T-Mobile, while the Incite is sold by AT&T.
"One of the key problems with most smartphones is that half the time you’re trying to scroll down the page and the phone thinks you selected a link," said Greengart, noting that only the iPhone and Storm have solved that problem.
"Flick your finger down and half the time it scrolls correctly, half the time it thinks you’ve selected a link," he said, referring to Web surfing on LG’s Incite.
Industry watchers do not expect consumers to line up around the block for the Storm like they did for the iPhone, but they say there is pent up demand for a good touch-screen phone from Verizon Wireless.
Vodafone said thousands of customers had ordered the Storm in advance of its U.K. launch on Friday, November 14, but the company has not updated figures since then. The Storm is free for people who sign Vodafone contracts.
RIM, whose BlackBerry devices have long been popular with executives looking to email on the go, has also used the Storm’s touch-screen to give users new options for navigating and searching their email inbox.
For example, if you are in one email, to get to the next one you can slide your finger to the right of the screen rather than having to exit the message first.
(Editing by Andre Grenon)
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