Monday, March 7, 2011

Blackberry vs iPhone

Executive Summary: don't give up your corporate Blackberry in favor of an iPhone, regardless of whether you're on Verizon or AT&T.

I've been a Verizon customer for as long as I can remember—over 15 years—and have been a Blackberry/RIM customer and BES+Exchange administrator for over 5 years. I've used and supported Blackberry devices going back to the 7250 (CDMA Color "click wheel"), and still believe that the "Curve 2" is the best device they've come out with for Verizon to date.

That said: for anything other than phone calls and interacting with the corporate Exchange server, the Blackberry pretty much sucks. The Java platform is slow and clunky, and something as simple as web browsing is an exercise in futility.

When the iPhone was released, I thought it was a clever toy. I had associates with them that loved them, but in many ways my Blackberry Curve was better. I had a flash for my camera. I could take motion video. I could type long messages on the thumb keyboard with a minimum of errors, and when AutoCorrect was 'invoked', it normally made sense; better yet, I had complete configuration control over AutoCorrect in the Settings application. Had the iPhone come to Verizon in its pre-iOS4 incarnations, there's no doubt that I'd have stuck with my Blackberry.

Enter the iPad.

To be sure, I agreed with many of the tech press who thought of the iPad as a bit of a toy—"an iPod Touch on steroids"—from the rumors and actual announcement by Apple in early 2010. I had no desire to buy one, and would probably still be a happy laptop-only guy had I not won one in a drawing. Of course, it was "only" the $500 16GB WiFi model, but it was enough: in short order, I realized how useful a smaller, pocket-sized version of the iPad would be, and soon had an iPod Touch to complement the iPad.

Make no mistake: for me, the iPod Touch was a miniature iPad; in no way was the iPad ever like an iPod Touch on steroids. And I still carried my Blackberry in order to "get work done."

I soon discovered the limitations of he WiFi-only lifestyle: while WiFi has become fairly ubiquitous in my town and areas where I work and live, coverage just isn't universal. One solution would be an upgrade of the iPad by replacing it with a 3G model; another would be replacing the Touch with an iPhone. Unfortunately, both solutions leave the other device "unconnected", force you into multiple data plans, or force you to leave/change carriers. My solution was to add the Verizon MiFi.

That choice turned out to be genius: not only did it answer the need I had for the two iOS devices, it also filled the gap for my laptop use. Now I didn't need to plan my on-call outings around local hotspots: the hotspot came with me. On more than one occasion, having the MiFi in the car gave me and/or my wife constant connectivity for all the devices at hand.

So this setup worked fine for the better part of a year: I'd keep my Blackberry for phone and email; the MiFi was "always on" and available in the car; use the iPod for casual gaming and web browsing; the iPad was a pure entertainment device—movies, social networking, Angry Birds HD—while still keeping a laptop and desktop for "real work". My business life was primarily supported on the business Blackberry's phone/data plan, and my personal life was primarily supported on the personal MiFi data plan.

When the Verizon iPhone finally made its appearance in 2011, I decided to take the plunge: I'd eject the Blackberry and iPod in favor of the iPhone in order to pilot the device for the company.

The iPhone on Verizon is a very capable phone. Shortly after my switch, I had to work with a vendor's tech support for an issue and spent over 4 hours on a call. This is no feat for a Verizon Blackberry, but is anecdotally known to be problematic on AT&T iPhones.

As expected, all my iOS applications were able to move from the iPod to the iPhone, but in order to match some of the corporate Blackberry functionality, I had to add a couple additional apps: While iPhone supports Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), [in my environment] it only supports synchronization of mail, contacts and calendar. I'm a regular user of Tasks and Notes, so iMExchange 2 was my fix. Later, I learned that the only way to manage out-of-office notifications "natively" is through Safari, so I added iGone to improve the experience a bit. Great: free functionality on the Blackberry can only be achieved with $4 in applications on the iPhone.

But wait; there's more: EAS, VPN, iMExchange and any other interactions with the corporate network rely on your Windows/Active Directory logon. When your corporate policy requires you to change your password on a regular basis, you must manually change it on your iOS devices to match. And you better do it quickly, or your devices could fail to logon enough times to lock you out of your account. Yet another place where the Blackberry excels (because it uses a proxy agent to access your stuff); and unlike my other conversion issues, "there's no app for that."

As a replacement for the iPod Touch, I really appreciate the additional functionality of the GPS, accelerometer and always-on connectivity (the WiFi-only devices drop their connections when in stand-by, while iPhone switches to 3G when in standby).

Other nits:
  • the Calendar app on iPhone—whether a side-effect of EAS or a "standard" iOS functionality—removes stubbed-in meeting invitations. Before I started using iPhone, meeting invites were always written to my calendar as "tentative"; they stayed that way until I chose to do something about them. With iPhone, those tentatives are removed and aren't part of my calendar at all if I don't take some sort of action.
  • Sound/vibrate on iPhone—With iPhone, you have two states for sound/vibration: "noisy" and "silent". While you have a great deal of control over the ringtones for phone calls, you are otherwise brutally limited in your control over notification sounds and/or vibration. In contrast, Profiles on the Blackberry are wonderful. Not only can you set per-contact notification styles, you can set up various sound-only, vibrate-only and sound+vibrate profiles for various message types. Further, on the newer Blackberrys, you can set up a "bedside mode" profile that is automatically invoked when some combination of "plugged in" and time rules are met. In my case, I would switch to "phone only" from 11pm to 6am when on the charger, and "vibrate only" at any other time.
  • Virtual Keyboard on iPhone (and to be fair, any touch-only device) is nowhere as reliable or responsive as the thumb-board of the Blackberry. To be fair, I think some of the Blackberry models have terrible keyboards, too, but the frequency in which I accidentally hit "delete" instead of "m" on iPhone is just appalling. And Apples insistence that no 3rd parties "muck with" the keyboard means there will never be any real improvements in it.
  • Email Management: The only place iPhone beats Blackberry for email management is support for multiple Exchange connections (starting in iOS 4); there's no way to connect to multiple BES servers using Blackberry. That said, however, the Blackberry is the hands-down champion for email management. The Blackberry "knows" that it's a messaging platform. When a new message comes in, the device can be configured to jump directly to it when unholstered or awakened from "sleep." In contrast, messaging is just another app (albiet built-in) on iPhone. When a new message comes in, you may get notification, but when you invoke the app, it returns to the last state you left it; sometimes, that requires 3-4 taps to get to the new message. In addition, with iPhone, you can't:
    • Filter messages from being forwarded to the handheld; Blackberry has a robust ruleset for managing this.
    • Select multiple messages for mark-as-read/unread (although you can move or delete multiple messages) or mark read before a given date—I used this function all the time on my BB.
    • Delete on the handheld but leave on the server.
So that's it: I've joined many of you that are in a love/hate relationship with an iPhone. The Apple hegemony is set up so that I'll likely never see my "nits" addressed, and some of them—like the EAS password issue—are deal-breakers for my recommendation as a replacement for a business Blackberry. Personally, I'm not ready to give up on iPhone and go back to a Blackberry, but I've been on one long enough to have interest in what RIM decides to do with Qnx after they get the Playbook released. If they manage to breathe new life into their devices and put some good, basic functionality back into their OS, I can see myself going back to Blackberry for my corporate life.


  1. I've found good things about both of these devices. Idk I think it's more about the users and their personal needs.

    1. I'm in total agreement. The point of the post was to give an early "switcher" view on the iPhone vs Blackberry conundrum. I've been on an iPhone for a while, now, and the cons just don't outweigh the pros of staying with it versus going back to the blackberry. I guess it's the key realization that the iPhone is a mobile computer--where each app is no more specialized than another--where the BlackBerry is a mobile messaging platform that wants to be more. If all you need is stellar Exchange integration, nothing beats BB. If you want the mobile computing experience and can live with messaging limitations, the iPhone is where it's at.