Phones

Deathmatch: BlackBerry Versus IPhone

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Look at any major analyst firm report since the Apple iPhone was released, and you'll see the earnest intoning to stick with the buttoned-down and pinstriped BlackBerry -- widely admired in executive corridors for its safety and security -- and beware that odd, colorful, possibly dangerous Apple device that consumers may love but professionals should avoid. If the iPhone were meant for work, it wouldn't be so much fun to use, would it?

Yes, it was Mac versus PC all over again: The iPhone was quickly pigeonholed as a fun, polished device for the cool kids to play with versus the RIM BlackBerry's rep as a corporate standard designed to get work done. As with the Mac-versus-PC dichotomy, Apple's focus on visual interface, exotic technologies like touch, and fun stuff (music, video, and games), coupled with its lack of "serious" capabilities such as encryption, let that perception take root as the conventional wisdom.

[ Dive deep into mobile 2.0 technology with InfoWorld's "mobile 2.0" PDF special report. | Get the scoop on all tech mobile in Tom Yager's Mobile Edge blog. ]

I didn't grow up in my corporate life with either an iPhone or a BlackBerry. For me, a phone is something to make calls with, and a PDA handles my contacts and calendar. But a year ago, I replaced my nearly dead Handspring Palm-based PDA with an iPod Touch and quickly grasped the significance of the "modern" PDA -- the importance, from both a personal and a professional point of view, of having the Web, e-mail, and more at my fingertips. To me the iPod Touch, and by extension the iPhone, was about as productive as a PDA could be, yet I saw BlackBerrys everywhere in conferences and business meetings.

What was it about the BlackBerry that I was missing? Would the iPhone really fall short in a business setting?

To find out, I spent a month with an iPhone 3G and a BlackBerry 9000 Bold (the professional model that RIM recommended as the best to compare to an iPhone) to see how well each would fare in my daily grind. (For the answers to that, see my upcoming stories later this week at InfoWorld.com.) In doing so, I also had the chance to compare the two devices in depth: mail to mail, phone to phone, browser to browser, and thumb stroke to touch-tap. In short, I evaluated them based on everything from classic PDA functionality and usability to location-based services and availability of third-party apps.

And how do they stack up? Frankly, I've concluded it's time to bury the BlackBerry. A revolution in its time, thanks to its ability to provide instant, secure e-mail anywhere, the BlackBerry has become the Lotus Notes of the mobile world: It's way past its prime.

I was shocked to discover how bad an e-mail client the BlackBerry is compared to the iPhone. And the BlackBerry is terrible at the rest of what the iPhone excels at: being a phone, a Web browser, an applications platform, and a media presenter. With its Windows 3-like UI, tiny screen, patched-together information structure, and two-handed operation, the BlackBerry is a Pinto in an era of Priuses.

[ See the iPhone versus BlackBerry side by side in InfoWorld's comparative slideshow. ]

Let me show you point by point why most people -- most companies -- should retire their BlackBerrys and adopt iPhones. And why some of you sadly cannot. Note that both devices are available only on AT&T's network, whose coverage and reliability is mediocre on much of the East and West Coasts, a drawback that really hit home when I lost data coverage in lower Manhattan for several hours as AT&T passed me off to roaming partner T-Mobile and its data-less service.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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