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Tag: Blackberry

Disruptive Innovation in one Chart

There are few examples of disruptive innovation as clear as what happened to Research in Motion/Blackberry, the former giant when it came to smart mobile devices for businesspeople (and a device which was previously super-important to me). Despite a seemingly unassailable market position and huge profits, they were caught off-guard by the more software-and-consumer centric smartphone wave that followed, the result being an astonishing 94% loss in company value in 5 years (HT: Quartz):

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Only the paranoid survive indeed…

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Addendum to iPhone/DROID2

Having written a long treatise on how the DROID 2 and iPhone 4 stack up against one another, I thought it would be good to add another post on where I thought both phones were deficient in the hopes that folks from the smartphone industry would listen intently so that my next phone choice is more clear. Note: I’ve focused this list on things that I think are actually do-able, rather than far-off wishes which are probably beyond our current technology (e.g., week-long battery life, Star Trek-like voice commands, etc):

  • Usage profiles: One of the biggest pains with using smartphones is that they are a pain to customize. The limited screen real-estate and the difficulty of relying on keyboard shortcuts means that settings are buried under multiple menus. This is fine if you really only use your phone in one way, or if you only need to change one or two sets of settings. It is not useful if, like me, you want your phone to act a specific way at work but a fairly different way in the car, or in the home. In that case, both Android and iPhone are severely lacking. The Android Tasker app allows me to create numerous profiles (I’ve created a in-car, in-meeting, at home/office profile and separate profiles for weekends and weeknights with regards to notifications and email sync) – and so is well worth the $6 price – but it is not as elegant of a solution as if it were integrated into the OS, exposing additional functionality.
  • Seamless computer-to-phone: Because smartphones have small screens, weak processors, and semi-awkward input interfaces, there are some things (i.e., research, making presentations/documents, crunching, etc) which I prefer to do on a larger computer.  This doesn’t mean, however, that I want my smartphone to be a completely separate entity from my computer. Quite the opposite – what I really want to see happen is a more seamless integration of computer and phone. At the most basic level, it means I want my bookmarks/browser history/favorite music easily synced between phone and computer. On a more sophisticated level, it means I want to be able to read/edit the same material (from the same place I left off) regardless of where I am or what device I’m using. If I’m running an application on my PC, I want to be able to pick up where I left on in a reduced-screen version of that application on my phone. Google’s Chrome-to-Phone, Mozilla’s Firefox Sync, and applications like DropBox just barely scratch the surface of this – and if someone figured out a highly effective way to do this (it would probably be Apple, Google, or Microsoft), they’d instantly have my business.
  • Email functions: Honestly, guys. Why is it that I cannot: (a) sort my email oldest to newest or (b) create new folders/labels from within your mail application? Blackberry could at least do (a).
  • Every app/screen should support landscape mode: This is one of my biggest pet peeves (more so with the iPhone than the DROID). Why is it that the homescreen of these devices doesn’t support landscape view (the DROID2 does but only if I pull the keyboard out)? Why is it that the iPhone App Store, Yelp, and Maps apps don’t support landscape mode? And why is it that I can’t lock the iPhone in landscape mode, but only in portrait mode? Apple, how about, instead of reviewing iPhone apps for what you deem to be “inappropriate content”, you force developers to support both portrait and landscape mode?

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Droid 2 vs iPhone

If this is the first time you’ve visited my blog, thank you for coming. Feel free to subscribe to this blog with the buttons on the right. You may also be interested in my comparison of Firefox vs Chrome.

imageI recently came out very positive on Google in a comparison of Google’s and Apple’s respective business models and product philosophies, but the post itself was very high-level and theoretical. So, I decided to write another post: this time on how the differences I mentioned before translate when comparing products?

I recently dropped my Blackberry and got Motorola’s new Droid 2 phone (on Verizon). Earlier this month, my company also happened to provide me with Apple’s iPhone 4 (on AT&T). Having played around with the devices and relied on them heavily for over a week, I decided to make a comparison of the two, not only to help myself think through how I’d use the devices, but also to help anyone out there considering a smartphone (warning: this post is LOOOONG):

  1. Neither phone is better, they’re different. In the same way that there is no one “best” car or one “best” significant other for all people, I would have to say the “best” phone for a person is the phone that has the right features/attributes for that person and makes the appropriate tradeoffs. In the case of DROID 2 vs. iPhone 4, each has their share of weaknesses, and each has their share of strengths and they will match different people’s needs and preferences.
  2. There’s still plenty of room for both products to improve. I think the “fanboys” on both sides seem to have missed out on this point – in their desire to tout one as superior to the other, they seem to have forgotten that both devices have more than their fair share of weaknesses. In fact, I’d say my dominant impression of both devices is more around “this needs to improve” rather than “this is awesome”.
  3. I’ve got a lot of more detailed commentary below, but my basic  impression of Android vs iPhone is very much like the comparison I drew in my post on Google vs Apple: the DROID 2 feels like a device where a bunch of engineers decided to cram a ton of “cool features” into a phone whereas the iPhone 4 feels like a device that was architected to support one particular user experience (but not others) as seamlessly as possible. What does that mean in terms of a direct comparison? In order of importance (to how I use the phone):
    1. Typing – Typing is extremely important to me as my main goal for smartphone is to let me write and respond to emails on the go. Given my years with the Blackberry’s famous high-quality keyboard, I was expecting to hate the iPhone 4’s soft keyboard. Much to my (pleasant) surprise, I actually got to be quick enough with it that speed did not become an issue. However, a few things plagued me. First, I absolutely hate the placement of the backspace key – its not where I expect it to be (having been trained by QWERTY computer keyboards) and is just close enough to the “m” that I hit it when I’m typing quickly. Secondly, the iPhone interface doesn’t actually support a landscape interface mode in all applications (i.e. the App Store) – which forces me to use a much more constrained portrait keyboard which slows me down. Finally, as good as the iPhone soft keyboard is, because there’s no good way to position your fingers or to “feel” when keys have been pushed, soft keyboards intrinsically force you to think more about how to type than a hard keyboard than otherwise. Enter the DROID 2. It has a hard keyboard which although not quite as good as a Blackberry’s (the keys seem oddly spaced to me, and they are more stiff than “springy”), still lets me position my fingers and type without thinking so much about how I’m typing.
      imageIn addition to the hard keyboard, the DROID 2 also supports Swype, a very cool (and fast) way to type on a soft keyboard where, instead of typing keys consecutively, you simply drag your fingers to the letters that you’re trying to type. There’s a little bit of a learning curve (in terms of learning how to punctuate and do double-letters), but once you get over that initial hump, I think the average person can get to a faster speed with Swype than they can just pecking at keys. In my mind, the DROID 2 wins hands down on typing.
    2. Exchange support – If you want a smartphone that can function as a work device, you need to support Exchange and you need to support it well. Both the iPhone and Android claim support for Microsoft Exchange with push synchronization. While I have some quibbles with the iPhone’s mail interface, there’s no denying that the iPhone’s Exchange support is seamless and fast. I have never had to think about it. And, on occasion, the iPhone would even notify me of emails before my computer received them! The DROID 2, on the other hand, is a different story. While the Exchange sync works most of the time, there have already been two occasions where the sync was broken and the device would think that a message I had already read was a new message. The sync is also significantly slower – requiring me to wait (sometimes up to 10 minutes) before an email that has already showed up on the iPhone and the desktop shows up through the DROID 2’s sync feature. I don’t know if this is because Motorola/Google introduced some intermediate layer in between the Exchange and the phone, but the iPhone 4 wins hands down on Exchange support.
    3. Google integration – I use a ton of Google services (Gmail, Google Calendar, Picasa, Google Reader, Google Voice, Google Maps, etc.) so integration with Google services is a key criteria when picking a phone. While the iPhone has an excellent interface to Google Maps (which puts the Android’s standard maps interface to shame in terms of smoothness and speed), its inability to do very much beyond basic synchronization with Gmail and Google Calendar and only webapp access to Google Voice makes its integration with Google on par with the Blackberry’s. On the other hand, is it  any surprise that Google services integration works best on a phone which runs a Google operating system? You can make calls using Google Voice as if it weren’t even there. You can easily apply and remove labels on and search through your Gmail seamlessly (without the semi-awkward IMAP interface). You can even access your personal online search history through Google Maps and Google Search. DROID 2 wins this one by a wide margin.
    4. image Attachment file format support – its not enough to be able to access email, a good work device should be able to handle the PDFs, Powerpoints, Word documents, and images that are likely embedded. Motorola had a stroke of genius by preloading the Quick Office application onto each DROID 2. But, while this app does a very good job of opening files, it not being integrated into the DROID 2’s email applications gives it a disadvantage compared to the iPhone’s in-line and integrated attachment viewer. Combine this with the DROID 2’s inexplicable inability to open certain image types in email and there is a distinct, albeit slight, advantage on file format support for the iPhone 4.
    5. Customization – I’m very particular about how I use my devices. As a result, I want to be able to customize the heck out of something. While the iPhone gives you some basic customization options (i.e., do you want to hear a sound when a new email comes in?), it doesn’t give you much beyond that (i.e., what sound do you want to hear when a new email comes in? would you only like to hear a sound if its gmail rather than exchange? would you like to hear a different sound for gmail and exchange?) On the other hand, the DROID 2 provides remarkable customization capability. Granted, some of the choices can be difficult to find, but the ability to customize so many things (including the ability to embed live, functional widgets on your home screen and not just functionless shortcuts) and to install apps like Tasker which let you customize even deeper is a big differentiator for the Android platform.
    6. UI responsiveness/slickness – Smartphones are expensive. They consume a lot of battery power. So when a device feels sluggish, I can get annoyed. The iPhone is, simply put, amazingly slick. No choppiness when you scroll or swipe. Great responsiveness. No odd user interface defects. While Google’s Android has made remarkable strides since its earliest incarnation, it still doesn’t come close to matching Apple’s user interface polish – the most shameful example of which, in my opinion, is the Android Google Maps’ sluggish multitouch support when compared to Apple’s. Come on guys, ITS YOUR OWN APP!
    7. Notifications – I don’t know a single person who likes the iPhone’s primitive notification system. Its overly intrusive. It can only display one particular message at a time. And, there’s no way for someone to get the history of all their recent notifications. And, as a Blackberry user who used to rely on a small LED indicator to unobtrusively inform him when something new happened, the iPhone’s lack of any way of notifying its owner that something has happened without activating the screen just strikes me as stupid. The DROID 2 is FAR ahead of Apple here.
    8. Network – I have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, I would  say that the call quality I’ve experienced on the DROID 2 has lagged what I experienced on the iPhone 4. Furthermore, my DROID 2 seems to have schizophrenic reception – I sometimes amuse myself by watching my signal indicator go from full bars to just one bar, all while sitting on my desk leaving the phone completely alone. The other side to this story, though, is that this experience quality has been primarily driven by an odd pocket of bad Verizon coverage in my girlfriend’s apartment – our calls from almost everywhere else have been very good. Also, despite my DROID 2’s signal indicator fluctuations, I have not yet observed any actual impact on my connection speed or call quality. When you combine this with the fact that my iPhone struggles to get signal where I work and in Napa (where I just came back from a wedding) but my DROID 2 had minimal issues, I have to say that DROID 2/Verizon beats out iPhone 4/AT&T.
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    9. Ability to turn off 3G – The two main things that burn out a smartphone’s battery are the display and the wireless connection. While its a pain to reach that particular menu item on the iPhone 4, Apple’s product does make it possible to turn off the 3G connection. Shockingly, despite all the customization, the DROID 2 does not provide this option. The iPhone 4 wins here.
    10. Turn-by-turn navigationThe DROID 2 has it. The iPhone doesn’t. And, believe me when I say this is: it is an AMAZING feature and completely displaces the need for a GPS device. I don’t drive places I’m unfamiliar with often enough for this to be higher in the priority list, but lets just say it saved my butt on my recent trip to Napa. DROID 2 wins here.
    11. Access to Bluetooth – In California, you cannot talk on a cell phone while driving without a Bluetooth headset. So, quick-and-easy access to Bluetooth settings is a feature of considerable importance to me. With the iPhone, the ability to turn Bluetooth on and off and change settings is buried beneath several layers of settings. The DROID 2’s pairing process is not only faster (although this is only by ~10-20 seconds), the ability to customize the home screen means I can embed widgets/links to quickly and easily toggle Bluetooth without diving through settings. DROID 2 wins here.
    12. image Chrome-to-Phone – DROID 2 has it. iPhone 4 doesn’t. This is a very cool browser extension which lets you send links, text messages, and maps to your phone straight from Chrome (or the Firefox clone of it). When I first heard about it, I wasn’t especially impressed, but its become a very useful tool which lets me send things which would be useful while on-the-go (especially directions). DROID 2 wins here.
    13. Absence of pre-loaded bloat – This is something where Apple’s philosophy of getting full control over the user experience pays off. The iPhone 4 does not come with any of the bloatware that we’ve come to see in new PCs. That means that the apps that run on my iPhone 4 are either well-designed Apple utilities or apps I have chosen to install. My DROID 2? Full of crapware which I neither want nor am I able to install. Thankfully, I’m able to remove them from my homescreen, but it annoys me that Verizon and Motorola have decided that preloading phones is a great way to generate additional revenue. The iPhone wins hands down here.
    14. Camera – To be perfectly honest, I hate both the DROID 2 and the iPhone 4’s cameras. With the iPhone 4, I find it pretty awkward to shoot a picture using the soft keyboard to both zoom in and out and take the shot. While the DROID 2 has obvious physical buttons to use for zoom and to take the shot, it has a lackluster flash and I found it more difficult to take steady pictures than I did with the iPhone 4. It also captures video at a lower resolution than the iPhone 4. In the end, though, I’d have to say that awkward use of the camera trumps bad flash photography and poorer video resolution: iPhone wins here.
    15. image Flash support – DROID 2 has it. iPhone doesn’t. This means no more stupid boxes on web pages which haven’t made the plunge into HTML5 video (because Firefox and IE don’t support it yet) or activating another application to watch YouTube videos. Does it burn battery? Yes. But its not like I’m watching it non-stop, and there are definitely some sites which you can’t visit without Flash. DROID 2 wins here.
    16. Voice control – Google recently unveiled its Voice Actions for Android application which allows you to perform all sorts of commands without ever typing a thing. While the Google search app on iPhone and apps like Siri have supported voice-based web searches, they don’t provide access to the wealth and depth of functions like email, text messaging (although, sadly, it does not yet seem to support Google Voice-based-SMS), calling up the map application, or controlling the music player that Google’s does. Granted, Google seems to still have issues understanding my girlfriend’s name is “Sophia” and not “Cynthia”, but the DROID 2’s voice-control functionality is way ahead of the iPhone 4’s and adds a lot of convenience when you are on-the-go.
    17. File management – Apple’s iTunes software works great as an MP3 player. I’m not so sure how I feel about it as the ultimate gateway to my mobile phone for pictures and applications. It also irks me that, because of iTunes, there is no obvious way to access or modify the directory structure on an iPhone 4. The DROID 2, however, looks and acts just like a USB drive when its connected to a computer. It even comes with a file manager app with which you can use to go through its file system innards from within the phone. If you are fine with the inability to specify your own organization structure or to use a phone as portable storage, then this is wash. But, if you value any of those things, then the DROID 2 has Apple’s iPhone 4 beat.
    18. Not proprietary hardware – You cannot remove/upgrade an iPhone’s internal storage. You cannot charge or sync with an iPhone without using its proprietary cable. This is great if you never want to upgrade your device’s storage capabilities, never want to slot its memory into another device, and never lose cables. But, if you ever want to do any of the first two or inadvertently do the last, then you’re better off with DROID 2.
    19. Display – One of the features I was most impressed with during the iPhone 4 announcement was the Retina Display: a screen with a resolution so high it was said to be at/near the limit of human detection. I can honestly say it works as advertised – the resolution on an iPhone screen is incredible. However, as I rarely use applications/websites where that resolution is actually necessary, its value to me is not that high (although the increased contrast is a nice touch). With that said, though, it is a nice (and very noticeable) touch and is definitely something where the iPhone 4 beats out the DROID 2.
    20. Device “feel” – The two devices have comparable screen sizes, but the DROID 2 has significantly greater thickness. The iPhone feels like a crafted piece of art. It feels metallic. Substantial. The DROID 2 feels like a thick piece of plastic. This doesn’t really impact the functioning of the device, but the iPhone 4 is definitely nicer to hold and look at and feels a lot sturdier.

    So where does that leave us? If you’re keeping score, I noted 12 things which (in my opinion) favor DROID 2 and 8 things which favor iPhone 4. As I mentioned before, which device you would prefer strongly depends on how you weight the different things mentioned here. If you value work-horse text entry, customization, and Google integration a lot (like I do), then the DROID 2 is probably the phone that you’ll want. If you value the Exchange/attachment support and UI slickness more, then the iPhone 4 is a better bet. And, there’s definitely room for disagreement here. If you think my assessment of Bluetooth support and notifications are off, then that could be ample reason to pick Apple.

Hopefully this was informative for any reader deciding what phone to get (even if they’re considering something which isn’t even on the list!). I’ll probably follow this post with a few thoughts on where I’d like to see the Apple and Google platforms go next – but until then, happy smartphone-ing!

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My Google Voice story

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The power of connectivity:

  • Today, a partner at the firm I work at wanted to call me, not realizing I was on a plane
  • He leaves me a voice message on my phone which includes a cell phone number for me to reach him at
  • Thankfully, I’m on a flight with WiFi
  • Also, I have Google Voice which not only gives me an online control panel to access all my voicemail, but also transcribes the message, and forwards it to my email (technology #2)
  • Because I have Google Voice, I can also read and send text messages as long as I have an internet connection, so I shoot his cell number a text message telling him when I land
  • I added his cell phone number to my list of Google contacts
  • When I land, Google Sync adds the partner’s new contact information to my Blackberry contacts
  • I used the Google Voice app on my Blackberry to shoot my partner a call

So I get to help the partner out without breaking a sweat :-).

(Image credit – Google Voice logo)

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2009 in blog

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As I did with 2008 and 2007, a couple of highlights from this blog for the past year:

Happy new year, everybody!
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Upgrade

I had the pleasure of upgrading my Blackberry to use the latest version of RIM’s operating system (version 4.5) last Friday. I had intended to do it myself, but I discovered that if your Blackberry is connected to a Blackberry Enterprise Server (i.e. can you check your corporate calendar/email on your Blackberry? If so, then you are) then your IT department has to do the upgrade for you. At the time, I was annoyed, but in retrospect it’s not that surprising considering how RIM promises enterprise IT department control over each device.

And, I have to say, it looks good.

  • Revamped email system – No more ugly text-only emails, Blackberry OS 4.5 supports rich text emails and formatting so that the email on your handset looks like what you would see on your desktop/laptop screen; RIM claims that this new system also lets you open/edit Word/PowerPoint files, but I have yet to test that feature so I can neither confirm nor deny it
  • Enhanced browser – I haven’t gotten rid of my Opera Mini, but the new Blackberry browser looks infinitely better than the old one – now that, by default, it packs a cursor (I know, revolutionary), what looks to me like better stylesheet support, and its main screen even has an address bar and a search bar built in
  • Video record – I always wondered why it was missing in the old Blackberry OS!
  • Voice notes – You can now record voice notes and save them for later use!
  • Improved font handling – I’ll admit that I’m not a font expert, but the new Blackberry OS fonts just look nicer (have they enabled better anti-aliasing?)

I’ve also revised the list of applications that I’ve currently installed on my Blackberry to my current must-have’s:

  • Google Mobile App – This lovely upgrade to the original Google application suite manager now provides a central interface to do Google searches, now with new location-specific searches and voice-searching features, and manage my Gmail and Google Maps applications
  • Gmail – Provides you with almost the entire Gmail interface in the form of a rich application – access your Google contacts, star conversations, and access your messages in the threads you are used to
  • Google Maps – Full access to Google Maps – including search, Google Latitude, public transit data, traffic, and even street view. It also has the location-sensing which enables you to pinpoint your location, even without GPS, by tracking the nearest cell phone tower
  • Opera Mini – Still, probably the best Blackberry browser out there
  • Google Talk – Access to your Google Chat via your Blackberry
  • Vlingo – A creative application which allows you to voice control multiple features on your Blackberry – including voice dialing, voice-enabled search, voice commands to open up applications, update your Facebook/Twitter status, and (if you pay for the premium version) the ability to compose emails via voice
  • WeatherEye – an application which brings weather for a particular region right to your Blackberry; the icon of the application changes based on what the weather is like (for example, when its night time, a moon will show up, when its day time, a sun will show up, if its cloudy, you will see clouds, etc), and gives you ready access to long-term and short-term forecasts
  • Ubertwitter – Although still in beta, it’s a very solid Twitter app that I would recommend to anyone who Tweets and is a Blackberry user

And, now, with the new Blackberry App World application (and now that my Blackberry is actually compatible with the newest applications), I aim to test a lot more new applications.

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Lessons from the Consulting Life: chain yourself to your blackberry

Yesterday, I stopped by a coworker’s desk to grab a quick morning breakfast and then to discuss our various workstreams. Given the endless teasing I get about how dependent I am on being connected via 3G wireless card and Blackberry, I thought I’d mix it up by not bringing either my laptop or my blackberry to the meeting.

Big mistake. The next thing I know, I have 6 emails in my inbox marked urgent: two from the head partner on my case, one from my manager, one from the head partner’s executive assistant, and two from the office receptionist. I have a message left on my cell phone from the partner. And I have the receptionist pinging me over the PA system.

It turns out the one time I choose to go “unconnected”, the client’s CEO suddenly needs some data that I have.

Lesson learned: I will chain myself to my Blackberry.

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Krackberry for Kids

It’s never too early to get kids started on the essentials for success in the professional world. Of course, that includes things like teaching them confidence, good communications skills, basic math, but it also includes the most essential thing for any savvy business person: the crackberry.

But, RIM (Research in Motion, makers of our most glorious business device) doesn’t provide a kids model. What shall we do?

Enter Leapfrog, “a leading designer, developer and marketer of innovative, technology-based educational products and related proprietary content” (way to emphasize the “related proprietary content”, guys) and their upcoming “Text and Learn” (HT: Engadget):

imageJunior is going to be an excellent consultant when he grows up, isn’t he? What does this beginner’s Blackberry include?

  • the ability to send text messages to “Scout” (the puppy shown above?)
  • the ability to check Scout’s calendar
  • a “pretend browser” (I’m not making this up)
  • learning programs to help test/practice following directions (like a boss’s email?), match shapes/letters (like on a PowerPoint slide?), and “silly animations and sound effects”

Wow, sounds like my Blackberry – except sans silly animations and sound effects. I wonder if I could convince my firm to let me use one of these. I really could use some silly animations and sound effects…

(Image credit: Engadget)

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Apparently, I made the wrong career choice

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In all fairness:

  • Not all bankers went to public schools, nor did all consultants go to private schools; Actually, in general, there’s a fairly good chance they both went to private schools
  • I wish I could get home by 7:15 everyday…
  • My Blackberry isn’t 4 years old (my firm subsidizes 1 purchase every 2 years)
  • I really doubt that bankers “create value”; find it, maybe, but “create” is a stretch
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The Blackberry’s Big O

imageI’m talking about Opera, the web browser.

Why speak of Opera when I’ve made it quite clear that I’m a big fan of Mozilla’s foxy open-source browser? The reason is that web browsers on mobile phones tend to suck.

  1. They suck because they are capable of very little. The little pages that you see on most mobile phone screens is stripped of animations, Flash, most Javascript effects, etc — neutering some websites and rendering all but the websites with custom mobile versions as hideous blobs of letters.
  2. They suck because they have horrible User Interfaces. An application does not have to have an intuitive interface like the one on iPhone to have a work-able user interface. The way that the user interface on the Blackberry browsers is designed, however, is the exact opposite of work-able. The clunky interface makes it very difficult to navigate larger web pages. The browser also makes no attempt to auto-rescale websites and sizes, or to auto-detect what user interface mode makes the most sense.
  3. They suck because they look and feel nothing like the browser on a computer. This may seem like a nit-picky point, but it lies at the heart of the problem with the mobile browser — it’s supposed to be modeled off software which we are all very familiar with, but it ends up falling short by not making a good effort to emulate, but by focusing more on the device’s limitations (limited screen-size and bandwidth) rather than the device’s potential (emulation to simulate most of the features from a desktop browser).

Opera Mini is Opera’s attempt to solve all three of these problems (hat tip: A. Ow). Opera Mini is a mini-browser Java app which speeds up the browsing experience by fetching all web-pages through a proxy server which performs on-the-fly calculations to rescale webpages and determine the best way for the user to start browsing the page. This is fed back to your phone, making the download faster and allowing the browsing experience to be smoother. Unlike the default mobile browser, Opera Mini attempts to strip down web pages as little as possible, oftentimes preserving the look and feel of the website (the Opera Mini demo shows what sites will look like in Opera Mini) including some Javascript and CSS.

I would strongly encourage people who either use the Internet on their Blackberries a lot or who want to but can’t stand the default Blackberry browser to download this.

On the part of Opera, this is quite a good business ploy — not only because this may mean they can one day capture the mobile browser market, but because I was so impressed with Opera Mini, I actually downloaded and tried the Opera browser for my laptop.

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Google for Blackberry Gets Better

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Google has recently overhauled the two applications I use on my Blackberry the most (Gmail and Google Maps) and introduced a new useful one (Google Mobile Updater) as well as made a few interface changes to the Blackberry Google Talk applet.

The new Gmail upgrade is the least polished of the overhauls. It feels a little more sluggish, although, thankfully, they’ve now included new bandwidth status messages to at least give you a hint of what’s going on. It also adds new features such as:

  • new keyboard shortcuts
  • contacts interface which allows you to search through your Gmail contacts, call those you have listed phone numbers for
  • secure connection — you now have the option to use a secure connection for all your Gmail interactions
  • drafts are something that I always thought were a no-brainer; unfortunately, these drafts don’t show up in your Gmail draft folder and you can only have one at a time
  • notifications are something which make the Gmail update much more useful; before, when new messages were received there was no way for me to know when or how many. New mail messages in my work inbox would result in my Blackberry’s LED flashing, a vibration or tone (depending on what mode I set the device at), and a change in the inbox icon revealing that there were new messages. Gmail’s new applet has finally fixed this allowing one to customize exactly how Gmail will notify your Blackberry that new messages have arrived– by icon, by LED, by tone/vibration, etc.

Much more useful is the Google Maps upgrade which now includes a new feature called “My Location” for those of us too poor to pay for GPS service and a built-in GPS device in our phone (and who can’t stand to re-charge our mobile phone devices super-often as the GPS service drains your battery like crazy). My Location is a feature which allows Google Maps to estimate your location to within ~2000 ft radius (highlighted by a light blue circle surrounding the blue dot in the interface) by locating the cell phone tower that you are closest to. While this doesn’t let you pinpoint your precise location, it makes the app much more useful. Case in point: on my way to our office’s Community Impact Day, I got lost, and instead of having to find some clunky means to estimate my location in Google Map’s interface, I simply used the My Location feature to give me an estimate of where I was so that I could quickly see the local streets. The video below summarizes:

Not particularly useful, but visually more interesting is the Blackberry Google Talk application updating to allow for Google Talk icons to show up, and a restructuring of the menu to be a little more usable. Alas, neither the rarely-updated Google Talk desktop application or the Blackberry Google Talk application seem to be able to interface with AIM the way the Gmail client does.

Google also very recently introduced the Google Mobile Updater which now provides one central location from which to install and update Google software (except for the Google Talk applet which appears to be maintained by RIM/Blackberry rather than by Google). This is currently only for Blackberry devices and, taking a page from the new Gmail applet’s icon, also informs the device user of updates and new products by change of icon.

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Blackberry + Facebook = End of Productivity

From Reuters:

RIM rolls out Facebook for BlackBerry

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd has launched Facebook software designed especially for its smartphones to make it easier for users to browse the popular social networking Web site.

T-Mobile USA has been chosen as the first carrier to provide the new software to its customers, RIM said on Wednesday.

The application will let users receive Facebook notifications and messages automatically and scroll through them quickly, just like the e-mail service for which the BlackBerry is already well known. Users can also read and compose messages even while off line, RIM said.

The feature that lets users upload photos to Facebook will also be integrated with the BlackBerry’s camera and photo management software, RIM said.

RIM has been expanding its offering of so-called “lifestyle applications” like games and multimedia in a bid to attract more retail users to the traditionally business-focused BlackBerry.

Business-wise, this is a smart move by both parties. RIM increases the “usefulness” (quotes are VERY sarcastic) of their device, and Facebook captures the wealthy demographic who own these devices (including the younger recent graduates who are Facebook users).

Of course, I see this purely in terms of my productivity losses :-(.

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Blackberry 101

Despite my protests to never become “one of those Blackberry owners”, I have, for the past three months, sadly and somewhat hypocritically, become a proud owner of a Blackberry Curve.

After three months of fairly heavy usage, I’ve compiled a list of 12 suggestions and impressions for people who are looking at making a purchase or wondering what the big deal about these devices is:

  1. Get a good high-speed unlimited Internet wireless service. The Blackberry Curve is cool because it is one of the only Blackberry devices to have a camera. But, if all you wanted was a camera on your mobile device, you could’ve gotten any number of cell phones. What the Blackberry excels at is in email and Internet applications. Thus, unless you have a service that allows the Blackberry to do what it’s supposed to (mainly, email and Internet), then you shouldn’t even consider getting one of these. It’d be like buying a car but never intending to buy gasoline.
  2. Check with your firm (if this is for work) if they have a Blackberry Enterprise Server. If they are (which is probably the case if your firm uses specialized Microsoft Outlook features to handle email and scheduling), check with your firm’s tech group about which type of Blackberry service you need to purchase. Not listening to them will mean, at best, that your Blackberry device won’t be able to use some of the cooler features (i.e. scheduling meetings through Outlook), and at worse, it means your Blackberry might not work at all. Note also, that while many devices support some type of Blackberry service/software, most of these emulated Blackberrys can’t read from a Blackberry Enterprise Server.
  3. Download Gmail’s Java Application. I assume you’re using gmail, because it’s the best, free web-email I’ve seen. If you’re not, go get gmail (for the reason, refer to the previous sentence). Then, go download the Gmail Java application which allows you to use the Gmail UI features (ie labels for email, organize mail by conversations, large space limit, forwarding at will, etc.) while accessing your gmail. If your job is going to be pinging you all day, then you might as well have access to your personal email while you’re at it.
  4. To combine your Blackberry and your phone, or not to combine, that is the question. I personally don’t want to lug around two mobile devices wherever I go (assuming I only want to pay for one voice plan — which, I do, because I don’t want to pay for two completely separate phone lines for two separate yet overlapping purposes), so I bought the Blackberry and swapped out the SIM card from my old phone and popped it into my Blackberry. This meant that I didn’t get the new service plan discounts on my Blackberry purchase, but on the upside, I did not have to change my cell phone number or anything. The major downside to this is . . .
  5. The Blackberry ties you to work. On the one hand, this has been a major time-saver for me and my team. I rarely turn on my work laptop on the weekends, now, because all the essential functions (checking email, firing replies, scheduling meetings/appointments) I can do from the Blackberry — and I can do any time and in any place that has phone service. On the other hand, especially because the device is the same as my phone and hence I don’t turn it off, I never get away from the email. This of course is mitigated by . . .
  6. Turn the email notification off. For the first couple of months, I left the notification on — which meant that every time I got an email from the office, no matter what the hour (and I discovered that some workers send emails at the oddest hours), my phone would vibrate at me. It got to the point where I could feel my blood pressure rise and the stressed out “fight-or-flight’ feeling build up every time I heard the darned thing vibrate. Now that it’s off, I feel much better. But, don’t you miss out on emails that way? No, because . . .
  7. You’ll check the Blackberry compulsively. I wouldn’t say that the device is necessarily addictive — although some people would disagree — if anything, I’d say it’s a godsend during boring interludes in conversations or when I’m riding a bus or a train and I have absolutely nothing to do. You just get in the habit of checking the device for no good reason. I’ve gone hours without looking at the device without any sense of withdrawal, of course addiction is partially genetic, and maybe I just lack the “easily addicted to small handheld smartphones” genetic makeup.
  8. GPS? Some Blackberries these days come with a GPS device which makes the mapping programs (I use the Google Maps applet) much more useful and much cooler. For those devices that lack a built-in GPS, you can use the device’s Bluetooth system to connect to a nearby GPS device to feed your Blackberry your position information.
  9. Buy a microSD expansion. These devices come with more or less no memory. If you plan to use any of the features at all (including downloading big attachments, using mobile Java applets like the Gmail and Google Maps ones I just described, using the camera, or using the music/movie player features) you’ll need more memory.
  10. The device charges on USB. Very useful for charging when you have a laptop and laptop cable but didn’t bring the bulky Blackberry adaptor.
  11. Consider how fat/clumsy your fingers are when you pick a device. I’m only partially joking here. Case in point: I really liked the Blackberry Pearl, the Blackberry’s general consumption model — it looked like a phone, was much smaller than the other models. Yet, it had two letters to a key, as opposed to the standard QWERTY keyboards that the other models had. That device, while cool-looking, was just not usable for me — and I have fairly small hands. I know people who say that it’s easy to get used to, but given that these smartphones already have tiny QWERTY keyboards, I feel strongly that if your fingers are large or maybe a little clumsy, that you avoid the Pearl and buy one of the QWERTY keyboard-bearing ones.
  12. Most of you actually reading this will probably get a Bluetooth hands-free headset thing. You will look like a big dork with no life outside of work. You will probably be a big dork with no life outside of work. You have been warned.

Incidentally, if anyone’s wondering why these things are called Blackberry’s, from Wikipedia:

RIM settled on the name “BlackBerry” only after weeks of work by Lexicon Branding Inc., the Sausalito, California-based firm that named Intel Corp.’s Pentium microprocessor and Apple’s PowerBook. One of the naming experts at Lexicon thought the miniature buttons on RIM’s product looked “like the tiny seeds in a strawberry,” Lexicon founder David Placek says. “A linguist at the firm thought straw was too slow sounding. Someone else suggested blackberry. RIM went for it.”

The “Strawberry”, huh? I picture my curve, but in pink. . .

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