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BlackBerry CEO hits back at Apple 'distortion field'

Jim Balsillie responds to Steve Jobs' comments

Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie has accused Apple of creating a "distortion field" and spreading half-truths, but he predicted that even Apple fans will soon grow tired of its stories.

Balsillie was the latest to respond to the barbs that Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivered during his company's quarterly earnings call on Monday. Jobs used the call to criticise competitors including Android and RIM and to downplay potential competitive threats to the iPad from forthcoming 7-inch tablets.

Balsillie took issue with the figures that Jobs used to compare phone sales and argued that customers and developers want a more open platform than Apple offers. Jobs bragged that Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones in the quarter ending Sept. 25, comparing that milestone to RIM's 12.1 million Blackberry devices sold in the quarter ending in August.

"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," Balsillie wrote in a blog post.

He also wondered how Apple managed to sell so many phones following its previous quarter, which delivered 8.4 million iPhones. Balsillie suggests that perhaps Apple's most recent quarter sales were "padded" by unfulfilled customer demand and channel orders from the previous quarter.

Based on shipment figures so far this year, it's likely that year-end figures will show that RIM is still in the lead. But the fact that Apple is so close on its heels is telling. While RIM has been selling smartphones for many years, Apple only just entered the market in 2007 and is already a serious competitor.

Balsillie also took issue with Jobs' criticism of forthcoming tablets, even though Jobs didn't mention RIM's.

Seven-inch tablets won't be big enough for a good user experience, Jobs said. "Apple's done extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff," he said. Apple's iPad has a 10-inch screen.

He also said that "almost all of these new tablets use Android software".

RIM plans a 7-inch tablet that will run on its QNX operating system.

"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," Balsillie wrote. He argued that RIM's support for Adobe Flash and an approach to developers that is more open than Apple's will give RIM an edge.

Balsillie predicted that even Apple fans will backlash against what he sees as its spin. "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," he wrote.

So far, however, Apple's strategy continues to keep customers interested. For instance, the iPhone 4 has continued to sell well despite a well-publicized antenna flaw and criticism over the way that Apple handled the flaw.

Balsillie isn't the only one to respond to Jobs' comments on Monday. Andy Rubin, who runs Android at Google, issued a message on Twitter designed to rebut Jobs' criticisms of the complexity of developing for Android. And the CEO of TweetDeck wrote a Twitter message noting that his company never said it was hard to develop for Android, despite Jobs' comments otherwise.


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