- Associated Press - Friday, October 14, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The longest BlackBerry outage in many years left customers outraged this week, threatening to cost the granddaddy of all smartphones more business when it’s already struggling to keep up in a crowded marketplace.

The three-day blackout interrupted email and Internet services for tens of millions of frustrated users and inflicted more damage on an already tarnished brand.

“I’ve been a pretty big BlackBerry advocate,” said Kate Jacobson, a student at Michigan State University. “But I’m done playing these games with you, BlackBerry.”

After using a BlackBerry for three years, she said the outage was the “last straw.” When service was restored Thursday morning, she got an iPhone anyway.


Her unhappiness was shared by users across several continents. BlackBerrys in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa had been without email or chat messages since Monday.

In the U.S. and Canada, the outage was shorter, starting Wednesday. But many, perhaps most, of the world’s 70 million BlackBerry users were affected.

“When I woke up in the morning and had zero emails, I was like, `That’s impossible,’” Jacobson said. She had already endured problems with her BlackBerry Curve turning off at the wrong moments. It didn’t play videos well, either.

Research In Motion Ltd., which makes the phones and handles email traffic to them, said the system was steadily processing a vast backlog of stalled messages.

The company’s two CEOs apologized profusely. It was a break from the past, when outages of BlackBerry service merited only terse statements from the company.

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie said they had not made plans yet to compensate customers, but they were turning their attention to that question.

“Our priority right up until this moment (has been) making sure the system’s up and running,” Balsillie said. “We’re going to fully commit to win that trust back.”

It will take more than an apology to win back some Blackberry users. But RIM’s latest fiasco is unlikely to result in a mass exodus of its corporate and government clients.

BlackBerrys, like other imperfect business technologies, are deeply entrenched in commercial settings, and getting rid of them represents time and money that companies may be reluctant to give up.

Indeed, RIM may experience a slower, more subtle migration from its smartphone. Two types of people have kept the BlackBerry from sinking further into the oblivion of once-iconic but forgotten gadgets: corporate IT managers and aspiring young people in developing countries like India. Countries outside North America account for 54 percent of RIM’s revenue.

For big companies, BlackBerrys are still the gold standard in security. But employees keep chipping away at the power of IT managers by bringing in their own phones and tablets _ iPhones, iPads or devices powered by Google’s Android software_ and demanding to get their work email on them, said Ahmed Datoo, vice president of Zenprise Inc., which helps companies manage their cellphone fleets.

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