iPhone vs. BlackBerry vs. Droid vs. Pre: Smackdown!

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Web and Internet Support

One of the iPhone's revolutionary advances was in bringing the Web to mobile devices in a capable, effective way. All of a sudden, the mobile W

eb was real. The WebKit browser that underlies the iPhone's Web experience is now used by the Palm Pre and Android devices, and it seems destined for BlackBerry. For now, however, the BlackBerry series are the only holdouts for the old, hard-to-use mobile Web. The BlackBerry OS's ability to reformat Web pages into a stack helps overcome some of its inability to deal with real Web pages, but it's no substitute for the real thing. The Motorola Droid's lack of multitouch support makes navigating Web pages awkward; furthermore, the Droid's multistep process to copy text and the inability to copy graphics fall short of the iPhone's standards.

Likewise, the ability to access Internet services like Facebook, search, YouTube, and so on (another area iPhone pioneered) is pretty much standard across all modern mobile devices today. The same is true for JavaScript support, though this capability is turned off on many BlackBerry models by default and must be activated by the user. Some carriers disable JavaScript support completely.

The one common Web technology in which the iPhone OS is at a disadvantage is Flash Player support -- it doesn't have it. Neither do the Droids. The other devices can display Flash video. All but the BlackBerrys can display QuickTime Video, though there's a third-party app that lets the BlackBerry view QuickTime videos.

Business Connectivity

Where stark differences between the current mobile contenders show is in support for corporate e-mail, calendars, and contacts. The BlackBerry, if you use the extra-cost BlackBerry Enterprise Server, lets you access these services whether your business uses Microsoft Exchange, IBM's Lotus Notes, or Novell Groupwise. It's the most enterprise-capable mobile platform for business connectivity.

The iPhone is second-best for business connectivity. It supports Exchange ActiveSync for e-mail, calendars, and contacts, though there are no clients as yet for Notes or Groupwise. The iPhone OS 3.1 fixes a bug that falsely reported support for ActiveSync on-device encryption policies; the 3G S supports such encryption, but older iPhones do not and thus can't access Exchange if encryption is set as an ActiveSync policy requirement.

The Palm Pre claims to support Exchange, but it supports only a few ActiveSync policies and thus can access only low-security Exchange servers. The two Droids also claim Exchange support, but I could not get the HTC Droid Eris to connect at all, while the Motorola Droid could only send messages, not receive them, a common complaint on the Droid user forums as well. The likely culprit is lack of support for ActiveSync policies. (My colleague Paul Venezia was able to establish a connection between a Droid Eris and an Exchange server that had no ActiveSync policies enabled.)

Note that Verizon enforces an extra $15-per-month fee to access corporate e-mail; if you don't tell Verizon you're using Exchange and don't call tech support for help on using Exchange, you can probably avoid the fee. But given the poor Exchange compatibility, it's pretty much a moot issue. The Motorola Droid does work with Exchange calendars through ActiveSync, but it won't let you respond to invitations.

All six devices support POP and IMAP e-mail accounts, so they're fine for personal and small-business e-mail access. They all support Google's Gmail as well, though BlackBerry owners will want to download RIM's "enhanced" Gmail client. To sync the iPhone to your PC's e-mail and calendar (as opposed to an Exchange server), you have to use either iTunes or the $99-per-year MobileMe service. The two Droids will directly sync to Outlook calendars and e-mails over a USB connection, as well as via Google Apps. BlackBerrys also can sync to Outlook on your PC, and to iCal and Address Book on your Mac, via a USB cable, using the BlackBerry Desktop software.

Application Support

Two billion downloads and counting -- that pretty much says it all about the wealth of available iPhone apps. No device comes anywhere close to the iPhone regarding the variety of third-party apps, and Apple keeps enhancing what apps can do, such as by enabling in-app purchases and subscriptions this summer.

The Google Android Market is looking good in its early days, with several high-quality programs available that match the better iPhone apps' quality, though often with fewer capabilities than their iPhone equivalents. HTC loads the Droid Eris with more than a dozen cool widgets that work only with its Sense UI enhancements to the Android OS; these bring real sophistication to the Droid Eris. Examples include a weather-and-time widget for the home screen, an integrated console for accessing all your messages, a favorites quick-access widget for contacting people with one click, and a mail-preview widget that means you don't have to keep opening the Email app.

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