Free apps offered to upset BlackBerry users

Firm tries to overcome outage anger

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TORONTO — The BlackBerry has left a bitter taste in the mouths of its users.

Trying to make amends for massive outages last week, Research In Motion on Monday promised BlackBerry users free premium apps and a month of technical support. But the apology is unlikely to placate miffed customers, many of whom are considering whether to part with the tarnished brand in favor of more popular devices such as Apple’s newest iPhone.

Jim Balsillie, one of the company’s two CEOs, acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday that his company has come under intense pressure. Even so, Mr. Balsillie defended RIM’s handling of the crisis, the company’s worst outage ever. He noted that RIM has survived rough times before.

The Canadian company said it will give BlackBerry users free apps worth more than $100. The apps will be available over the coming weeks on BlackBerry@App World. They include iSpeech Translator, Bejeweled and Texas Hold’em Poker 2. The offer runs until the end of the year. For its enterprise customers, Research In Motion will offer a month of free technical support.

“This is something we would like to offer as our form of thanks. It’s a $100 worth of premium apps. It’s a substantial offer to our 70 million users around the world,” Mr. Balsillie said.

Last week’s blackout interrupted email and Internet services for tens of millions of users around the world and left RIM executives apologizing profusely days after the crisis began.

Indeed, the RIM’s outages came at a particularly bad time, with BlackBerry smartphones already struggling to keep pace with competitors like Apple’s iPhone. On Friday, Apple introduced its latest iPhone model — the iPhone 4S. In its first three days on sale, according to Apple, 4 million of the new phones were purchased — more than the average number of BlackBerrys sold in a month.

RIM has scrambled to reassure customers after Mr. Balsillie and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis took criticism for failing to talk publicly about the outages until Thursday morning, the fourth day of the service interruption.

Mr. Balsillie said he was too busy, trying to learn the cause of the problem, to comment in the first days of the crisis. He said he was in the Middle East at the time and spent day and night on the phone with customers and carriers.

“The most important thing is staying connected to the ecosystem and making sure you’re on what’s the root cause. If you spend more time on PR it’s less time finding the root cause,” he said.

John Crean, national managing partner of Nation Public Relations, the largest public relations firm in Canada, said RIM was too slow in managing the crisis.

“Given the significance of the delay and the global nature of it, they should have had their CEOs out earlier and more visible,” Mr. Crean said. “The brand has diminished significantly in the last year and this is not helping at all.”

Mr. Crean said the app offer is a good tactic, but by no means a strategy to repair the brand. He said he still hasn’t heard what RIM has done to enhance its system to avoid future interruptions.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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