Background - Blackberry, the most advanced business communication platform and hands-down, the best phone that I've ever used.
As noted, I first picked up a Blackberry nearly two years ago, coupled with a decision to switch from Verizon to Cingular. While with Verizon, one phone had died and I switched to the Motorola Q, hoping to get access to my work email through my phone. After using the Q for a month or so, I found it to be a poor match for my usage -- I didn't like the full keyboard (it was impossible to dial a number without looking), it seemed like the Windows mobile application crashed a lot, and when it came to checking email, the process of checking POP3 seemed to hang the system and kill the battery. I tried to work with Verizon to swap the Q for a more traditional phone, but they wouldn't work with me, so I decided to try Cingular. My first phone from Cingular was one of the first 3G phones, an LG model that would (theoretically) allow me to use the phone like a modem and connect to the highspeed network. Not only could I not make that work, the phone dropped calls all the time whenever it switched from between 3G and Edge networks. Fortunately, the guys at Cingular were very flexible and willing to work with me on swapping the phone -- and that's when I got my Blackberry 7130 -- the predecessor to the Blackberry Pearl.
Here are a few of the things that I think help make the Blackberry the best business communication and messaging platform available:
- Profiles: The Blackberry had a whole list of setting profiles that allow you to configure how the phone behaves when specific profiles are activated. In 'Normal' mode and when the phone is not in it's holster, the phone will ring when a call comes in, but if an email comes in, it will change the LED from blinking green to blinking red. In 'Normal' mode when the phone is in the holster, a phone call will make it vibrate twice, then ring, while an email or a message will just make it vibrate. You can customize all of these settings as well as ring assignments and more.
- The Intelligent Holster: The Blackberry adds intelligence to the holster so that the phone knows when it is in a holster or not. Basically, it uses a magnet (some plusses and minuses on that one) in order to switch the phone. When you put the phone in it's holster, it puts it the keypad to sleep and changes the profile.
- Speed Dial: Configure single button speed dial settings for your frequently dialed numbers.
- Online email Account Pre-screening Rules: Set up email routing rules so that you can filter Spam -- or only route certain high-priority messages.
- A Dial pad that works like a regular cell phone: This isn't true if you have one of those full-sized keyboard models, but for the Pearl model, each key functions as two keys for QWERTY work, but the center of the keyboard is a standard phone number pad.
- Standard Cable Interface: One USB mini port used for all charging, data sync, etc.
- Third-party software: there are a lot of business-centric applications that you can download and install on your Blackberry - language tools, tools to view PDF and Office documents, even an application that will allow you to use Skype on your Blackberry (an awesome tool for international calling).
- The Blackberry Server and Push technology: The Blackberry pushes email to your phone as soon as the server sees that you have a message on the server. Not only does this help you get messages faster, it seems to help with your battery life as your phone only has to get email when the server pushes something to it. If you're company hasn't invested in Blackberry Server, RIM servers query your mail server on a scheduled basis, then push email when they get some.
- Integrated text tools in the Blackberry OS: Copy, Cut and Paste, Highlight text, dial number. Until I switched to the iPhone, I took this functionality for granted. The Blackberry allows you to hold down the shift key and highlight sections of text. You can then cut, copy, or paste that text across the platform.
- Lack of the Holster / Message LED / Profiles on the iPhone: If you're used to that Crackberry on your hip, my phone just vibrated because another message just came in experience, the iPhone is just not going to provide the same level of experience. Sure you can set it to vibrate when there is an email, and sure, you can get a holster, but the iPhone isn't going to magically know when your phone is in the holster or not (like if you're in a meeting). And if you've left your phone on the desk and stepped away, there isn't a visual clue to help you see that the iPhone has messages.
- Lack of Physical Buttons: Sometimes this is cool, but I find that dialing with the touch screen is a good way to missdial -- it seems that I often trigger "call" instead of some other button that I wanted. Also, depending on the way that you hold the phone, I find that sometimes I accidentally trigger some of the edge buttons.
- Differences between the iPhone button layout and the Blackberry layout: the call / hang-up buttons on the iPhone are backwards (left-right, right-left) from the layout on the Blackberry, so several times I hung up when I intended to answer a call.
With all of the issues that I pointed to above, you might think that I'm kicking myself for switching to the iPhone, but that's not the case. The two platforms are remarkably different, and the advantages of each can't really be matched by the other. When it comes to web functionality, the iPhone simply has no equal. Here are some of the things that make the iPhone unparalleled for web use:
- View full web pages and zoom in and out: Compared to most mobile viewers that deconstruct the page and present pages more like a text-based browser, the iPhone displays web pages as you would view them on your computer -- when the web pages appear, you see the full page, and you can zoom in as needed. It's easy to underestimate just how useful this feature is -- particularly as this functionality is carried across the entire platform, from the mail client to third party applications.
- A Web Browser that works like a web browser - Example, Salesforce.com: I've loaded Salesforce.com pages on my iPhone -- that's dashboards and all -- and the interface works. In trying the same thing on my Blackberry, I needed the 'Salesforce.com mobile edition' and that pretty much only functioned like a version of the 'Offline Edition'. If you're an administrator, this is pretty much a waste of time -- and not worth the cost of the mobile client seat license. Don't get me wrong, Salesforce doesn't seem to like the idea of you entering data through your iPhone (this kept causing my browser to crash), but I think that's only a matter of time -- unless SFDC wants to try and squeeze a few extra cents off of iPhone users.
At the same time, this web functionality on the iPhone means that I can administer web site content using some of my web-based content manager -- and it works flawlessly.
- Integrated WIFI: Maybe it's just me, I don't typically use the wireless networks at Starbucks and other places -- but when I go to the office or when I get home, having access to the Wireless LAN means that my email attachments download faster. It also means that if I want to use the iPhone for web browsing, it's almost as good as my laptop, it just weighs less.
- Touchscreen Typing: Although it's taken me a little bit of time to get used to typing on the touchscreen -- my fingers just seem too big -- once I got used to it, I find it much easier to type with the iPhone than I did using the tiny buttons on the Blackberry or the Motorola Q. With the Blackberry, I always felt like I could answer, but it was just going to take time, so that if I was anywhere close to a computer and a keyboard, I would use the computer. With the iPhone, it's so easy to type that I am usually happy to use it.
- The Applications Store: Although the Blackberry has a host of third-party applications available for it, the iPhone offers many applications that were simply not available before. Here's a few of the applications that I've downloaded and what they do:
- Yelp! - Online restaurant reviews with Geo-location. Extremely handy for identifying restaurants on the go.
- Jot - An online voice-encoding, note-translation service. This is a cool app!
- Showtimes - Geo-location-based movie times
- Shazam - an application that listens to music, then tells you what the song is
- Pandora - Internet radio with format identified by 'music genome'
- Games - Crossword puzzles, other puzzle games, things that make me use the iPhone for more than simply the Pavlovian response to vibrations on my hip
The thing about these applications is not so much what they do, but more that they are simply software -- software that takes the platform in directions and uses that I probably wouldn't have gone before I had the iPhone; software that is quite different from the business-centric tools available for the Blackberry.
- IPod functionality - I've always said that I would prefer to have my music player not sucking down the battery on my phone -- but the iPod on the iPhone actually seems to run more efficiently than many of the other applications that you'll use all the time. It may be worth having a separate traveling iPod just for the plane, but having one on the phone isn't as bad as I thought it would be.
- Great platform for seeing your messages and immediately knowing what message came it
- Easier phone number dialing support -- physical number pad and speed dial support -- makes it better as a phone when driving
- Highlight, Copy and Paste support -- this still surprises me that it isn't supported on the iPhone
- The BEST mobile internet platform - YouTube looks so good you may even find yourself using it.
- Email client - it's Apple's mail client. You're viewing html emails, so you can view different languages, etc. It's easier to send emails and there doesn't appear to be a limit on mailboxes (like with the Blackberry), but some fuctions aren't as nice (wouldn't it be nice to be able to store and attach files?)
- Applications support - I don't know where you will go with this, but I didn't expect to download any of the applications that I did. The possibilities are huge.
- Touch, rotation, the ability to play video - they look cool, but you also look cool using it.