RIM has one of the oldest OS platforms in the 2009 Smartphone Round Robin, but unlike Nokia's S60 (reviewed here last week), and Microsoft which is busy rebuilding,'s signature BlackBerry Bold 9700 and BlackBerry Storm2 enjoy huge popularity in North America, a seemingly unbreakable hold on the Enterprise market, and an ever-increasing focus on consumers.

Last year, Dieter likened the previous BlackBerry Bold 9000 to the Treo 650 -- perhaps the ultimate representation of a platform at its peek of perfection... yet raising the question of where that platform had left to go. On the other hand, the original Storm1 never failed to disappoint, a hit in numbers but not hearts of BlackBerry lovers. Now it's a year later. Does the BlackBerry Bold 9700 take the roll of Treo 680, a slimmer, more polished perfection, still not hinting at platform futures to come? And does the Storm2 get right what the Storm2 done so wrong?

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To try and answer that, the SPE editors did a Round Table with Mickey for the Cell Phone Junkie podcast, and I got plenty of help from CrackBerry Kevin and a stupefying amount of information from the CrackBerry Forums. Huge thanks to everyone -- I needed it!

(And just a reminder, every day you post on my thread, or any of the official Round Robin threads, is another day you're entered to win one of six (6!) new smartphones!)

Okay, time to bring the BlackBerry rain... after the break!

Back in BlackBerry

If you haven't watched it already, check out my BlackBerry 9700 and Storm 2 walkthrough with Kevin. It'll help with the context.

[YouTube Video link]

Here are some other helpful links:

Got it? Good.


Hardware Design

BlackBerry 9700 -- Bold but not Bolder

RIM typically makes great hardware and the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is no exception. If last year's BlackBerry Bold 9000 was the full-sized Cadillac limo of front-facing-QWERTY, this is the new Caddy coupe. It's everything that was great about the device made slicker and faster. The most notable change is the width. Gone is the epic expanse of the Bold1, repackaged now in Curve-like proportions. And I kinda miss the luxurious size of the Bold 1, to be frank. It better fit the Bold name and the sheer audacity of the form factor screamed flagship. This new Bold2 is like the recession era remake. Still premium, but trying not to be all overt about it.

What I don't regret is the trackball has been replaced by the new, sexy trackpad. Just like the Mighty Mouse became the Magic Mouse, RIM has eschewed mechanical, misfiring parts for optical, touchable technology. Bravo. BlackBerry users will never be gunked-up again.


Storm 2 -- the Mulligan

Remember when I said RIM typically makes great hardware? I said typically because, given Kevin's gripes about the design-decisions behind the Storm1, I can't say always. Happily, the Storm2 seems to fix each and every one of those gripes. No more leaking light from around the edges, no more wobbly little feet on the back, and no more giant honking button for a screen. Now there are four medium non-honking buttons -- or button-like things. The amazing of it is, when the power is off the BlackBerry Storm 2's screen isn't a button at all. You can't press. It's as un-pressable as an iPhone. Turn the power on, however, and suddenly you can press away, and due to the 4 actuators (or whatever they are) you can do so far better than you ever could with the Storm1. See, with that old bag of hurt, you pressed, waited for the whole thing to come back again, then could do a second press. Click. Pause. Click. Pause. Click. Pause. Roll eyes. Click. A huge drag for typing.

Now, with Storm2 it's almost like multitouch. You can press and only that "button" goes down, which means you can immediately press somewhere else and almost always get a different "button" to recognize the input. Click. Click. Clicketyclickclick. Click. Much improved.

It's still 2 steps -- navigate to/select what you want via touch, confirm/execute what you want via press. For example, touch "A" to highlight it, press "A" to write it in. This is RIM's trademark input paradigm, after all. But with Storm2 you can press right through, essentially selecting and confirming in one shot. (Yeah, you could do that with Storm1, but the "wait for the one button" schtick effectively ruined it).

In other words, you can either go the sure and safe way, carefully selecting then confirming, or the fast and loose way, just typing away. It's nice to have the option -- and to have it workable and so much less frustrating this time around.


Software Experience

Like Apple, RIM makes incredible hardware flawlessly integrated with fantastic software. Unlike Apple, however, who have kept almost identical device-types over the last 2 years, RIM has embraced a wide variety of form-factors, and hasn't developed a unified, carrier-interference-free, method of keeping even the last couple years of all those devices updated to the same OS. (Witness a list of BlackBerrys that will, and by omission will not be getting 5.0).

Storm2 and Bold2 definitely have the latest and greatest, so that's what I'm looking at. But here's the thing -- due to RIM's enterprise footprint, a lot of the new features they have been adding over the last year aren't obviously consumer facing (some seem to require an enterprise server on the back end). That makes it hard for an iPhone guy like me, who doesn't really know his BIS from his BES, to just pick up and point out how RIM's latest OS, 5.0, is different from last year's 4.x offering.

(Maybe that's a criticism of Apple, where things as absurd as cut and paste and MMS make for easy generational demos.)

Luckily, has a full list of BlackBerry OS 5.0's incremental features as well.

JavaScript being turned on by default in the web browser is huge, however, though not as huge as their getting a WebKit browser will be -- hopefully by next year.

App World! Application Time! Excellent!

As opposed to 5.0, RIM's new BlackBerry App World is easily pointed out. Following the success of Apple's iTunes App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch in 2008, every other platform raced to launch one in 2009. Of course, almost all of them already had 3rd party apps and had them for years, but the centralized, on-every-device and all-in-one-place model was, well, revolutionary.

RIM has kinda, sorta done that with App World, though there are a few exceptions. Since places like the App Store have been serving up software for years, there wasn't the exclusivity or desperation for it like there was on the iPhone. Also, in RIM's incredibly partner friendly manner, there's some weird arrangement of App Worlds and carrier-specific (and other) storefronts that are or will be available.

That means, however, they can avoid the "rejected apps" controversy that still plagues Apple, and since they've made price-points fixed -- for example, you can have free apps, but the next step up is $2.99 -- they're hoping to avoid the "race to the bottom" that many believe also plagues the App Store.

Needful Hierarchies and Business as Unusual

If you haven't yet read Kevin's Hierarchy of Smartphone Needs, go do it now. I'll play games on my iPhone while I wait.

Back, okay. Brilliant stuff there and important to keep in mind because devices like the iPhone and the BlackBerry can both be best-in-class when we're talking about different classes. And different businesses. That's a point I come back to over and over again when we reach BlackBerry week in the Round Robin. I understand and deeply appreciate how perfect the BlackBerry is when it comes to super-quick, keyboard-driven messaging that can go for days. For many users, and for many types of classical business (finance, sales), that's what matters most.

The iPhone's strengths aren't in messaging (unless we're talking Twitter -- I'll put iPhone's top Twitter apps against any other platforms). I've even joked that when I'm using my iPhone and a phone call or message comes in, I get mad at the interruption. (Yes, joking. Kinda.)

For internet anywhere, for work that involves creativity, design, or requires complex apps, the iPhone becomes decidedly the professional choice.

It's that duality between iPhone and BlackBerry that I think explains why we see so many users dual-wielding both. That BlackBerry is getting better about browsers is great. If they would dump their app size limits and JavaME abstractions, it would be fantastic. But then Apple would have to figure out a unified email client, release a Mobile iChat, and figure out better enterprise management. What Bizarro universe that would be, it would be hard to imagine...

BlackBerry to the Future

...Which doesn't mean I won't try.

A couple of years ago -- last year even -- the general concern in the Round Robin was that RIM had hit the end of the line with the BlackBerry OS, that they would need to "spend their time in the desert" the way Palm had to transition from PalmOS to webOS, and Microsoft is now doing to grow from Windows Mobile 5/6/6.5 to Windows Mobile 7.

RIM has done a lot since to mitigate those concerns. The BlackBerry Developers Conferences have been a huge part of that. New APIs, the aforementioned WebKit browser, support for widgets and localized WebApps, OpenGL for gaming, etc. will certainly modernize the BlackBerry OS.

But they won't make it a modern OS.

Now sure, that's hypocritical coming from the guy who's platform is based on BSD Unix, which is no spring chicken to say the least. But while the foundations of the iPhone OS are tried and true, the upper layers, especially Apple's Core APIs (CoreAnimation, CoreData, etc.) and the Objective C-based Cocoa Touch frameworks give developers a huge advantage -- especially the major developer, Apple.

The Bold 9700 is the no-compromise BlackBerry. If the 9000 was the Treo 650, this is the Treo 680. But like Palm faced with that device, the question becomes, what's next? It's possible RIM can continue their incremental evolution, keep the platform modernized and meaningful for many years to come. But it's jut as possible BB OS is at its prime, and RIM, like Palm did with webOS, may need to -- or may already be working on -- the next generation 'Berry.


This is where I try to bring it all together from an iPhone point of view. And from that point of view, I can say if you're trying to choose between an iPhone and a BlackBerry Bold 9700, you're... well it's an easy choice. They're Yin and Yang, day and night, and while there is some overlap their areas of excellence remain so opposite, so complementary, if you think for a moment about what you're actual needs are, it'll be immediately apparent which one you need -- and the answer to that could actually be both. (Them dual-wielders we keep seeing).

Sure, AT&T can be a factor. Can't use AT&T, can't really use an iPhone in the US (though plenty of people in SF and NYC apparently keep trying, regardless). But if you need a glorified pager with the best messaging in the business, if you wear a suit and tie and all your VIPeeps are on BBM, if you just have to have a physical keyboard (and why not the best one), you're a Bold.

If, on the other hand, you want a glorified iPod, if you need the web on the go, 116,000 apps for that (which sounds ridiculous until you can't find the one of them you really need on another platform), access to high performance audio and video isn't a nice-to-have but a must-have-it, and if Apple's pushing-the-pace of smartphone innovation appeals to you now and into the future, you're an iPhone.

And what about the Storm2? That Verizon threw it under the bus in favor of the Droid is kind of a shame, but only kind of -- the Storm line is an attempt to adapt the BlackBerry experience for a touchscreen. It wasn't designed for that form factor, and for many it might not be what the BlackBerry experience is about anyway (there's just something so "right" about BB OS on Bold-style hardware). The Storm2 is a square peg better forced into a round hole, but unless your needs really demand some BlackBerry/iPhone hybrid, or you're Verizon4Life, getting the best of either is probably better than settling for the okay of both. [gallery link="file" columns="2"]