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 his company has come under intense pressure but defended RIM's handling of the crisis, the company's worst outage ever. He noted that RIM has survived through 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," Balsillie said.
Last week's blackout interrupted e-mail and Internet services for tens of millions of users around the world and left RIM executives apologizing profusely days after the crisis began.
BlackBerry phones are already struggling to keep pace with competitors like Apple's iPhone and smart phones using Google's Android platform.
Although BlackBerrys have dominated the corporate smart phone market, their popularity in the consumer market is waning. U.S. consumers have moved on to phones with big touch screens.
RIM's Playbook tablet computer has also been a major disappointment. RIM shipped about 200,000 of them to retailers last quarter. That was far short of what analysts had expected, and paled in comparison to the top-selling iPad, of which Apple shipped 9.3 million units during its most recent quarter.
Balsillie and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis came under pressure last week, when they failed to talk publicly about the outages until Thursday morning, the fourth day of the service interruption.
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," Crean said.
Crean said the latest crisis has to be looked at in the context of what's been happening to RIM. He said the narrative of RIM over the past year is that they've lost the cachet of having a must-have smart phone.
"The brand has diminished significantly in the last year, and this is not helping at all," Crean said.
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.
Kim White, a mother of three in Toronto, said the outage annoyed her and said the app offer does nothing for her because she's never even used RIM's App World. She said she would have preferred credit from her carrier for the days it didn't work.