RIM fires back in smart-phone word war

Steve Jobs' comments Monday are still getting attention as RIM responds with strong words. We pick the winners.

By Kim Peterson Oct 20, 2010 12:57PM
Credit: (© Paul Sakuma/AP)
Caption: Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds the new iPhone 4Meow! We're seeing a hissing match of epic proportions this week as tech executives blast each other in the smart-phone wars. Let's see what's being said and pick the winners.

Kicking things off, of course, was Apple (AAPL) chief executive Steve Jobs, who went on a remarkable rant against competitors in his earnings call Monday. He unloaded on Google (GOOG) and Research In Motion (RIMM) in particular, and those companies are responding in kind. Or not so kind.

"Many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple," Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive at RIM, said in a statement posted online. His comments came after Jobs said, "We've now passed RIM, and I don't see them catching up."

Winner? Jobs. Although some people might find his venting distasteful, he's on to something. BlackBerries have lost their momentum, and RIM's latest "iPhone killer" -- the BlackBerry Torch -- was simply a catch-up product.

Jobs was wrong to compare two different sales periods -- Apple's quarter ends in September, and RIM's ends in August -- but RIM has clearly lost market share to Apple this year. Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones in the quarter, while RIM shipped 12.1 million BlackBerry devices in its recent quarter.

And Balsillie's comment isn't exactly correct. Customers aren't yet tired of being told what to think by Apple. In fact, many customers happily immerse themselves in Apple's closed ecosystem, preferring the compatibility and ease of use. Now, developers might be another story. But customers are fine, as evidenced by Apple's recent earnings.

Next let's move on to tablets -- specifically, Apple's iPad vs. RIM's 7-inch PlayBook, which is due early next year. "This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps, in our opinion,"  Jobs said in the earnings call (the iPad's screen measures 9.7 inches).

Balsillie wasn't pleased. "For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field, we know that 7 (-inch) tablets will actually be a big portion of the market," he said. "We also know that while Apple's attempt to control the ecosystem and maintain a closed platform may be good for Apple, developers want more options."

Winner: Balsillie. RIM must have thoroughly researched the market potential of a 7-inch tablet, so I believe him when he says that size will work. Dell (DELL), Samsung and others are developing 7-inch tablets as well, and there's nothing yet to show that the smaller size limits app quality.

Google chose to play it coy this week after Jobs criticized the various implementations of its Android platform. Google gives Android to phone makers for free, letting them customize the software to their liking. As a result, Android phones are able to differentiate each other.

Jobs implied that the fragmentation causes its own set of problems.

"Google loves to characterize Android as open and iOS and iPhone as closed," he said. But that's a "smokescreen to hide the real issue of what is best for the customer: integrated versus fragmented."

His comments were enough to get Google's Android chief on Twitter for the first time. Andy Rubin sent out the following geekalicious message: "the definition of open: 'mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make'".

Say what? A Google spokeswoman told the Journal that Rubin sent out the computer command to download the Android source code and start developing.

Winner: A tossup. Google took the high road and didn't stoop to Jobs' level. But its response was bizarre and didn't say much. Jobs gets away with criticizing Google's approach and planting the idea that open isn't always better.

Finally, a developer jumped into the fray. The chief executive of TweetDeck, which people use as a companion to Twitter, responded as well.

Jobs said that TweetDeck "had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets." And, adding insult to injury, he mixed up TweetDeck's name and called it "TwitterDeck."

That was enough to elicit a response from TweetDeck founder Iain Dodsworth. "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't," Dodsworth said on Twitter.

Winner: Dodsworth. His response made it seem like Jobs was picking on the little guy and making up facts to enforce his case.

Now that all parties have had their say -- and the tech world has talked of nothing else for three days -- here's hoping that the issue will die down. This kind of sniping is better left to the cast of "Jersey Shore."

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2Comments
Oct 20, 2010 3:14PM
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aapl stock bought my new car this year.  Thank you aapl.  Steve Jobs----------well, he could be a little less arrogant I suppose.
Oct 20, 2010 2:15PM
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Jobs is an arrogant A*** and as usual looks down his nose at the rest of the tech world. I am one of those people who would not give you 2 cents for an Apple product. The stock is way over priced. If someone else comes out with a better smart phone than the iphone or better product than the ipad apple will lose market share quickly...they are just ahead of the technology curve on these products. The main problem with apple products is their operating system and the integration of their software for the corporate space and development space....it is not there.
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