RIM [TSE:RIM] execs might have taken some cheap shots at Apple [NASDAQ:AAPL] for its touchscreen when the iPhone debuted a year ago, but now more details are emerging about RIM’s own touchscreen device. Rumors had originally pegged the full-face touch device as codenamed “Thunder,” but sources revealed to tech blog Gizmodo today that it will in fact be called the “Storm.” Okay, so “Storm” is just as lame as “Thunder,” but some of the other corrections to the old rumors are more salient: contrary to widespread reports that RIM was having trouble developing a workable interface, Gizmodo’s sources are now saying that the device is not only on schedule, but that the interface “rocks.” Part of that interface, word has it, is a flexible screen that reacts haptically to touches, giving discernible feedback when an on-screen button is touched.
As RIM has demonstrated with their new BlackBerry Bold, their operating systems can indeed handle multimedia well — after seeing that device play several movie trailers beautifully at a PepCom demo event here in New York, this blogger has complete faith that RIM will carry their OS competency into the big-screen touch device realm. That said, haptic feedback hasn’t yet been done right by any device maker to date; the effect is usually cheesy at best, and laggy or battery-draining at worst. If buyers wanted something that shivered every time they touched it, they’d get a pet squirrel with a caffeine addiction.
And while RIM may have the ability to leverage their multimedia operating system when building the Storm, they’ll need more than just me-too funtionality if they intend to go head-to-head with the iPhone. Apple’s new Mobile Me service steals what was once RIM’s crowning advantage: “push” email, or email that arrives on your phone the instant it’s sent (as opposed to current mobile email apps, which check in with their mail server every 15 minutes or so). If RIM fanboys are to have any hope of seeing a touch CrackBerry that can teach Apple a lesson, they’ll have to steal a page out of the iPhone maker’s playbook and do it better — or come up with some feature that is entirely new.