RIM bosses puncture Apple distortion field

Research In Motion founders and co-CEO's Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have launched a stunning attack on Apple, following Steve Jobs' comments at RIM's expense in a recent earnings call.

In his comments, Jobs noted that the 14.1 million iPhones Apple sold in the quarter handily beat RIM’s 12.1 million BlackBerrys sold, in their most recent fiscal quarter ending in August.

"We’ve now passed RIM. And I don’t see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future," said the Apple supremo.

He said the Blackberry-making Canadian outfit had to move "beyond their area of strength and comfort, into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company."

Striking back in a blog entry on the RIM web site, Lazaridis and Balsillie declared Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle "unacceptable". Apple’s claims about RIM products looked, they said, like "deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation."

The pair said Apple should take repsonisbility for the shoddy antenna design of the iPhone 4 before crowing about how RIM is now playing catch-up.

"RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage," they wrote.

"RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.

"For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field," the duo said, addressing Mr. Jobs's specific criticisms and assertions, the RIM execs contend that "we know that seven-inch tablets will actually be a big portion of the market and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience.

"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 and customers want to fully access the overwhelming majority of web sites that use Flash. We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple. "

They also said that Apple's preference to compare its September-ending quarter with RIM's August-ending quarter doesn't tell the whole story because it doesn't take into account that industry demand in September is typically stronger than summer months, nor does it explain why Apple only shipped 8.4 million devices in its prior quarter and whether Apple's Q4 results were padded by unfulfilled Q3 customer demand and channel orders.

"As usual, whether the subject is antennas, Flash or shipments, there is more to the story and sooner or later, even people inside the distortion field will begin to resent being told half a story."

Is looks like Lazaridis and Balsillie's spirited response won that round of the jousting match. Jobs may be right about the desirability of 10-inch screen size tablets over seven-inch models for the bulk of Apple's target market demographic for the iPad will mostly do with the device.

However, the preponderance of RIM's BlackBerry clientele are enterprise and institutional users who have a different set of needs, and for them the superior portability and compactness of seven-inch display tablets may well have greater appeal.

Whether RIM will be able to overcome Apple's tremendous head start is another movie. It will be fascinating to watch the RIM (and the rest of the iPad wannabes) rivalry unfold once competing seven-inch machines like the PlayBook begin shipping.

Let the games begin.