updated 02:35 pm EDT, Wed September 16, 2009
BlackBerry Tour trackball a major issue
The BlackBerry Tour is suffering from a widespread defect that could seriously impact Research in Motion's bottom line, an analyst cautioned on Wednesday. The trackball on the smartphone is reported as clogging so quickly that it requires users to frequently clean it to keep it working; as most don't or aren't aware of it, a very high number of owners end up returning the Tour to the carrier. As many as 50 percent of all Sprint's Tours are being returned, while Verizon is "angry" enough that it's telling stores to expect a shift in support to Motorola's upcoming smartphone based on Android.
Sprint has reportedly determined that just a slight increase in quality control costs of 3 percent or less could more than compensate for the problem as it would drastically cut the number of returned phones that need to be fixed or replaced.
A long-term problem of the sort would potentially be hurtful to RIM's market share and financial situation. Verizon is believed to pin as much as 80 percent of its smartphone revenue on BlackBerries like the Tour And Storm, while Sprint is also significantly dependent. A conscious shift away from this to Android or another platform to retaliate for quality control issues would likely shrink sales and damage RIM's relationship with two of its most important carrier customers in the world. The phone designer's sales leveled off in the spring and are liable to face further pressure from the iPhone.
RIM hasn't formally responded to the complaint, but it's known to be moving its smartphone line away from the trackball and towards optical trackpads on all its non-touch phones. This began earlier in the year with the Curve 8520 but should include virtually all of RIM's conventional phones within the next few months through future devices like the BlackBerry 9700.