Research In Motion Ltd. co-CEO Jim Balsillie has hit back against Apple Inc. , slamming critical comments by chief executive officer Steve Jobs as a product of Apple's "distortion field" of misinformation.
Mr. Balsillie's comments came after Mr. Jobs ripped into the BlackBerry maker, essentially describing the company as an also-ran in the smart phone race.
"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," Mr. Balsillie said in a statement Tuesday.
In a rare appearance during Apple's fourth-quarter earnings call on Monday, Mr. Jobs went on a 10-minute tirade against virtually every one of Apple's competitors in the mobile space - from RIM to Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Among his many targets were other tablet makers. At one point during the call, Mr. Jobs quipped that 7-inch tablets are too small and that users would have to sandpaper their fingers down to a smaller size in order to use the touch screens on such devices.
Mr. Balsillie took issue with that statement, and used it to highlight Apple's own shortcomings in the tablet space - namely, the iPad's lack of support for Adobe Systems Inc.'s widely used Flash multimedia format.
"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 and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real Web experience," he said. "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 websites that use Flash."
Mr. Balsillie's response is the most vocal of all the competitors Mr. Jobs named during the conference call. The RIM executive also pointed out that Mr. Jobs' claim that Apple had sold more smart phones during its most recent quarter than RIM was based on incomplete information.
"RIM has achieved record shipments for five consecutive quarters and recently shared guidance of 13.8 million to 14.4 million BlackBerry smart phones for the current quarter," he said. "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 [fourth-quarter]results were padded by unfulfilled [third-quarter]customer demand and channel orders."
The spat comes at a time when both RIM and Apple are preparing to battle for the fast-growing smart phone space. Late last month, RIM unveiled the PlayBook, its 7-inch tablet. The PlayBook will go on sale in the United States early next year - right around the time analysts expect Apple to refresh its iPad.
Adding to the competition will be the first slew of tablets powered by a new version of Google's Android operating system. Google plans to release a version of Android specifically tailored for tablets, which should begin popping up in new devices early next year.
Canaccord Genuity technology analyst Michael Walkley said Apple had for years assumed the role of feisty underdog in the shadow of Microsoft - a company it surpassed, in terms of market cap, earlier this year. Still, even by those standards, Mr. Jobs was especially harsh in his comments.
"It's somewhat unusual to go after the competition," he said. "I don't think he spared anyone, he went in guns blazing."
The timing of his comments, far from being off-the-cuff, was likely thought out and strategically timed, said Kevin Restivo, a mobility analyst with the technology consultancy IDC, since it came right after a bout of great publicity for its key rivals and right before the crucial holiday buying season.
"Apple's trying to reiterate its strengths, which have been overlooked to some degree over the last number of months," Mr. Restivo said. Some iPhone 4 users had complained about antennae problems with the phone. "The talk about 'Antennagate,' and how strong Android has been, and some of the attention RIM has got with its product launches and ongoing strength in the business market. It was well-timed."
Reaction from Google to Mr. Jobs' rant was decidedly more subtle. The company's sole response was a single post on Twitter from Andy Rubin, the engineer behind Android. Mr. Rubin's post was essentially a set of computer instructions - the post was intended to show that all the code necessary for anyone to begin working with Android could be fit into a single 140-character tweet - a comparison of how open Google's mobile operating system is compared to Apple's software.