BlackBerry Tour, which is available to both Verizon Wireless and Sprint customers, is under scrutiny for trackball issues that have led some Tour owners to return the smartphones.
The question is: how widespread is the problem?
TownHall Investment Research's David Eller said in a research note this week that he has consulted "experts" who have determined Research In Motion is having a "big trackball problem, especially with the Tour," which was launched in July.
Eller wrote that BlackBerry Tour owners are being forced "to clean the trackball frequently and preferably with compressed air." When they don't clean the trackball, the issues get worse, leading them to bring the device back to the store for repairs or returns.
It has gotten so bad, Eller contends, that Sprint's "return rates have been climbing toward 50 percent."
A 50 percent return rate on a mobile phone would be huge. But Sprint is telling a much different story.
"We experienced a small percentage of early production Blackberry Tour smartphones with trackball issues," a Sprint representative said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "As soon as the issue was identified, we worked closely with our partners at RIM to resolve the problem quickly. Any customer experiencing issues with the Tour should visit a Sprint service and repair center."
Sprint, which said it had never worked with TownHall Investment Research prior to the research note's release this week, said the number of BlackBerry Tour returns it experienced "weren't even close to 50 percent." The Sprint representative said it was "a very small percentage." He wouldn't release exact figures but did say the percentage was in line with other new devices that experience some hardware problems at launch.
But Eller didn't only mention Sprint. In the same note, he wrote that "Verizon is experiencing serious problems with the Tour." He claimed that "Verizon will soon be getting new smartphones from Motorola and Palm that compete with RIM. Verizon is angry about this recurring trackball problem and is telling its retailers to expect strong support for the new Motorola phone."
However, Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace said in a phone call Thursday that the "BlackBerry Tour has the lowest return rate of any smartphone Verizon Wireless is selling. In fact, its return rate is one of the lowest among all the products our company sells."
That said, Gerace did acknowledge that BlackBerry Tour devices did experience trackball issues when they were first released. He said that his company "caught it pretty early and we didn't sell many with the bad trackball."
Gerace offered a biting response yet when I asked him about the accuracy of Eller's contention that Verizon is angry at RIM and will be strongly supporting a new Motorola device.
"That is blatantly not true," Gerace told me. "Just look around at our advertising. Does it look like we're not pushing the BlackBerry Tour?"
RIM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.… Read more