Round Robin: Adios, BlackBerry Curve
So, my time with the Curve has come to a close. It's a dirty little secret of the Smartphone Round Robin, but I'm glad that I got to use the iPhone again for a day. I airlifted the 8310 Curve off to Jennifer of TreoCentral, and Kevin is shipped me the Windows Mobile-based AT&T Tilt. I got to keep my SIM card firmly seated in the iPhone for a full day!
It's been an interesting week with the Curve, but the limitations of it started to wear pretty thin on me as the week progressed. Once the newness of the curve wore off, I started eyeing my iPhone a lot more. I've been looking forward to shipping the Curve off so I could use my iPhone. Looking to the future, I began -- shudder to think -- looking forward to the Tilt. But there are some strong redemptive features to the platform.
I got tired of pressing the spacebar a zillion times to scroll through lengthy end user license agreements, giving rights away, etc. The Apple solution of having the EULA presented in iTunes with activation is actually kind of elegant, now that I think about it. But you only have to agree to a EULA once, and then it goes away. Until you update the program, and then they present you with a new one. If the memory of this wasn't fresh in my mind from this week, I wouldn't remember it.
There are two odd niggles that I discovered in using it. I use email aliases fairly extensively. My actual email address is michael dot overbo at smartphoneexperts dot com. But the one I use and give out to everybody is mike at phonedifferent dot com, and I send and receive emails from that address. Both are valid, but any email I send out on my iPhone isn't from the Smartphone Experts address, it's from the Phone different address. When I tried to set up an account with the phone different address using the BlackBerry's 'Personal Email Set Up,' it choked. There might be an advanced email setup mode or something that I didn't look for.
I also ended up with a bunch of partial emails in my integrated inbox. I'd receive a partial of a push email. Then I'd receive another partial a few seconds later. And then the full email in maybe a minute. This occurred for multiple accounts. It's not a big deal, but it is kind of odd. It might be AT&T's fault, who knows. I'm not going to blame the Curve.
I need to stress that these nits don't amount to much. I'll bet that if I wanted to, I could fix them, probably with a quick post to the CrackBerry.com forums. All of the folks there have been great. The aforementioned nits are just being reported for completeness' sake.
Media and Entertainment
Depending on what manner of fancy SDHC cards you've got sitting around, the Curve can match the amount of storage the iPhone has. But most of the market has their music sitting in iTunes, working with their iPod. I'm one of those people. TunesSync ($10) would have gone part of the way for me, but is Windows-only, I'd have to migrate my playlists and library from Mac to Windows. Missing Sync for BlackBerry from Mark/Space would have gone the distance, but costs $40. It would be a necessary purchase if I was going to use any BlackBerry as a real replacement for my iPhone.
There is a lot of 3rd party software available for the BlackBerry, which is admittedly one of the strengths of utilizing the J2ME platform. All of the games that were available on my feature phones are probably available on the BlackBerry as well, which is a nice touch. Granted, none of the J2ME games I've got from those days are compatible with the Curve, which is one of the things that sucks about J2ME (and BlackBerries don't even support the full MIDP 2.0 standard). And it's not like the BlackBerry ships with a decent five-way or d-pad -- control schemes for most mobile games with the number pad have still been invariably bad, in my experience. Still, you design toward your control strengths. The Breakout-clone that shipped with the Curve was pretty good, and I'll bet there's a pretty kick-posterior version of Centipede for BB scroll wheels floating around somewhere. And I know that there will be some great crossword or Sudoku puzzles out there. Maybe even a crossword app that receives the NY Times crossword puzzle, pushed out daily. Play to your strengths, right?
One of the things that I really do like about RIM and the BB OS overall is that they do allow users to get OS upgrades. RIM was pretty slow to add user-centric functionality to their devices at first, but ramped up with the built-in apps pretty quickly, and they pushed that functionality back to their older devices. Case in point, there's an update coming out that adds video recording functionality to the Curve in the near future. There are likely more advances on the way for the Curve. Palm OS used to do that, but they largely don't anymore. Windows Mobile is doing it now, at least to a certain degree, but Microsoft's best efforts are stymied by the carriers and handset operators.
I really respect that BlackBerry does those updates, though. For one, it doesn't leave businesses and customers in the lurch. And, it gives users of older devices something to look forward to. I know that the iPhone is missing functionality now, but I'm extremely confident that that functionality is going to increase as Apple releases software revisions. Functionality will expand exponentially once the SDK becomes available. I just have to be patient for it.
If you need an email lifeline, but aren't as concerned about a web or media lifeline, the BlackBerry OS is a good option. RIM has been putting media functionality into the BB platform pretty rapidly, which prevents users from defecting. They might gripe about the wait, but it's not too likely that they'll defect for a feature that's short months away. Judging from the market success of the BlackBerry, it's a strategy that's working, I'm not going to predict that RIM is going to go under or anything stupid like that. Really, I'm not sure that the BlackBerry competes with the iPhone at all.
That headline is deliberately misleading. I like the Curve a lot. And you know, the specs on the Curve are excellent. It's got a good camera, GPS built-in, perfectly good battery life, a great form factor, feels very good in the hand... there are a lot of things that are great about it. It's a world-class piece of hardware, for sure.
That said, it's missing three things that I really just can't do without. In the previous article, I griped about some of the things that are missing that bug me. Lots of things bug me, but something that bugs me isn't necessarily a show-stopper. These things are show-stoppers:
A Real Web Browser
Which one would you rather use?
The browser. If they can't get anyone to write a decent Java-based browser, they should port one of the lightweight HTML kits like WebKit or KHTML or persuade Opera to develop a push-based native version. Their browser is bad, and the lack of a touchscreen really hits home here (more on touchscreen in #2). Opera Mini is a stopgap, but they should be making deals with Opera to make a push-compatible version of Opera Mobile. Or they should be making a J2ME compatible WebKit/KHTML. Did I repeat myself? Yes, this one is twice as important as the other gripes. Whatever it costs, it doesn't matter. It should be done. I'm not going to say that Palm OS aren't going to get hit on this one. They will for sure.
On the iPhone, the scenario is like this: the wife and I will watch a TV show, see a familiar face and think, "Who is that actor and/or actress? Where have I seen him and/or her before...?" And I'll look it up on the iPhone. A few moments later, we know who he and/or she is. Persistent annoying bug in the back of our minds solved. I didn't even try for any of that stuff on the BlackBerry. I've still got a bunch of stuff in the back of my mind somewhere that I wanted to look up. I'll remember it in a few days and then stare sullenly at the Tilt, in all likelihood. Queries to Wikipedia definitely hit an all-time low this week with the Curve.
case in point: what's his face
A Smartphone in Feature Phone Clothing
A UI push would be a smart move. If they had a UI that brought in some innovations from the other smartphone operating systems, BlackBerry users would be even more efficient than they already are with their push lifestyle. That's kind of a scary thought, no?
In some ways, the BlackBerry OS isn't as far along as I'd expect it to be, given how long it's been on the market. The big innovation that BlackBerry has brought to the mobile world -- push -- is the best part of the platform, but I feel that beyond push, RIM is a bit out of their league. I think that RIM has been grabbing their interface paradigms from feature phones instead of smartphones or computers, and I think that could be unfortunate in the long run.
It makes me sad, but copying feature phone UIs might actually be a smart move for now. Feature phone UIs, though tortured, are what 90% of North American mobile phone users are familiar with (insert your own obligatory 90% Windows users joke here). Everyone is familiar with feature phone user interfaces. There are bunches of indistinguishable icons, plenty of carrier-branded apps that interfere visually with platform apps, buried settings, and plenty of themes to choose from.
It's an easy move to present something familiar to those people in lieu of developing a more structured and intuitive user interface. I do think it's a possibility that RIM will lose customers to Windows Mobile if they don't address the convergence aspect of smartphones and address the emerging needs and wants of the prosumer and "mobile accomplisher" crowd. Think of the future: Microsoft designs mobile and desktop Windows to look similar. Eventually the tortured-ness of the Windows Mobile UI will be more familiar than the torturned-ness of the feature phone UI to that 90%.
AT&T's theme for the BB might be the best one, usability-wise. AT&T's theme hides most of the extra AT&T cruft in folders. Why don't folder settings apply across themes?
With a touchscreen, you can scroll through big lists pretty quickly -- flicking is a pretty efficient way to scroll through bunches of stuff. Without one, you mash on the spacebar a bunch of times or flick the scroll wheel a lot. I'll predict that the motions would be pretty similar to what you see on the iPhone. Worries about battery life on TouchScreen BlackBerries seem a lot like Palm's supposed worries about battery life with wifi: old and busted. Everyone else BB competes with has figured it out, why hasn't BB?
- I think some of the other reviewers will include 3G, but the truth is that I've never really used it -- the Twin Cities area hasn't had it. The best I've had for mobile data is 1xRTT, GPRS, EDGE and wifi. And you know what? Wi-Fi is definitely my favorite.
- As I mentioned in the previous Curve article, Microsoft will eventually whittle down the BES advantage. It may take months or years, but they'll do it.
Until We Meet Again
I don't want to end my time on the Curve on a bad note, though. It wouldn't be fair to the Curve, which I'm forced to admit is a great device -- in its own right, and on its own terms (isn't that great? A compliment-dig).
I think that iPhone and BlackBerry are diametrically opposed in what they try to do, which makes them complementary. What the BlackBerry is good at, the iPhone sucks at. Where the iPhone excels, the BlackBerry sucks. And both platforms provide updates to their users, which I like. If I worked for a business, that expected me to lug around a second smartphone besides my iPhone, I'd try and finagle my way into one of the smaller BlackBerries like the Pearl. There, I said it. I would hide all but like eight icons on the BlackBerry and use the iPhone for everything else on the sly and let each device play to its strengths. Also, in the event that I ever get sick of having a touchscreen smartphone, I'll look to BlackBerry first (another compliment-dig).
There's a flip side to that coin, though. There always is: I think that the hardcore BlackBerry users will be entranced by the iPod Touch. Or, if they need a personal cellphone in addition to their enterprise-managed BlackBerry, the iPhone is not going away. I don't know how long the affinity will last; part of me expects each company to begin viciously tearing pages out of each other's playbook, but it's definitely there now.