Anyone who knows me, knows that I just have to have the latest tech gear. So we’ve been hassling our Telecom account manager to get the latest BlackBerry 9700. Phones just aren’t cool for me if they’re on general release. Yes its a character flaw but I just have to have the shiny things.
The Bold 9000 has been hit. Most business people I meet have either an iPhone or the 9000 and the consensus seems to be that the 9000 is the best mobile experience out there. And not a bad phone.I got my first BlackBerry when I was at Quest 4 or 5 years ago. Before that I’d had every Windows Mobile device. I’d seen Americans with BlackBerry’s for years before. When I finally got one I was blown away by what a good mobile email device they were. I immediately saw how wrong the Microsoft approach of trying to shoehorn the Windows metaphor into a mobile device was. It was a great example of the power of design. In addition RIM (Research in Motion – the company behind Blackberry’s) has vertically integrated into Telephone companies through to Exchange Mail servers to deliver a very fast service. You can simply flip your BB on as soon the plane lands and be caught up on emails before leaving the plane.
But as the iPhone has arrived RIM has been left behind. Worse they have thrown away their competitive advantage of the best mobile experience by such a simple thing. They have not invested in user centered design – the very thing that made them the best mobile email experience in the beginning.
Here are some examples
- The BlackBerry home screen lacks the basic apps that people use. All they had to do was look at the iPhone. After Email, Calendar, Contacts it’s Weather, Stocks, World Time. The iPhone nails these. RIM didn’t even have to be original, they could have just copied. That would have stopped me looking at the iPhone.
- Even the icons on the screen – the thousands of them. Aren’t just ‘at a glance’ icons. You have to work out what each one means. Too hard and again – easy to fix.
- The BlackBerry app store is just crap. I can’t believe they executed that so poorly.
Just one designer at RIM would make the difference and could have saved the company.
So onto the 9700. Did the close the gap on the iPhone?
Firstly. The 9700 is gorgeous. This is the nicest BB ever. Much smaller than the 9000 – close to the curve. I’ve had to change the 9000 Trackball so the Trackpad will be great. It seems good to use. I’m still working out how hard to push the surrounding keys so it takes a few days to wire but it feels good. Another great thing is now there is a dedicated lock button on the top. Finally. Hard to see it but it works great.
On the XT network the 9700 is 3G everywhere and that seems to work well.
Changing BlackBerry’s is slick. Simply reactivate and everything comes across. Wifi settings, browser history, everything. You only need to get your apps (like Google Maps, GMail and Yammer). Up and running in 15-20 minutes while you do something else.
Hardware and phone then 10 out of 10 so far. But the 9000 is also very nice. Being a bit bigger the 9000 may actually be easier to use. But I do like the small size of the 9700. I wouldn’t suggest you had to change immediately as both are good and some may find the 9700 a bit small.
But, and this makes me really angry, they changed the USB to an even smaller size which means that my investment in standard chargers, car charger and deskstands are now a throw away. Why change to a different USB standard? You idiots! The new small USB port is not even that much smaller. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Not thinking of the customer.
So onto the software.
Huge disappointment. Not just because its essentially the same, but for a couple more reasons.
- There is a bug in the new messages notification (the red asterisk). My red asterisk never goes away. I look for the red asterisk probably 100 times a day (you notice this when its broken). Those few pixels completely ruin the experience for me. I want to throw this new device across the room and go back to my 9000.
- The different message readers are just a mess. Always has been. If you’re new to BlackBerry this must be very confusing. I just fire everything into the one stream and that works great. A new good thing (I think) is that SMS’s are now more chat like and the conversation collapses in the inbox. That is quite good but they chickened out of doing that to email as well which may have been a nice innovation and moved things forward.
- The UI is the same boring UI as the 9000, but they’ve sexed up a few of the widgets. So the date and other option pickers are starting to look iPhone quality nice. This seems really odd as they live on the same old general UI. RIM what are you smoking? This just looks half done and unacceptable for a company that serves millions of users.
- The BB interface in general now is just old. It’s too hard to use now compared to what we’re seeing on the iPhone and new devices.
In this industry, things move fast. The velocity of change is increasing. Up until now i’ve resisted the iPhone because email was the most important thing. Now other streams and feeds are as important. Yammer at Xero is a key tool for me. RSS feeds, blog comments, twitter searchers and for many I suspect FaceBook updates are becoming as important as email. While you can get BlackBerry apps they just aren’t good enough. Also many of the websites I need are now great on an iPhone. So I’m ready to jump ship on the BlackBerry. I’ll suffer going to a soft keyboard to get better access to these other streams.
The next iPhone should be a big step up. Hopefully it will have a step up in battery life and the phone quality will be better. But regardless – it’s not about the best mobile email experience anymore.
You can see this move to feeds in the latest Windows Mobile offering. Surprisingly it now appears that Microsoft now get’s it.
So where I used to think that Microsoft has to buy RIM. RIM now needs Microsoft to buy it. They are going to loose so much value over the next few years that RIM will become affordable. RIM don’t have a clue about design, and Microsoft now shows it does in this space. Linking the superfast carrier links of RIM, through the BES Exchange connectors, into the new Windows Mobile UI would create a formidable mobile enterprise platform.
Microsoft + RIM. It’s not if but when.
Final recommendation: Hold onto your Blackberry 9000 for a couple of months until you see what the iPhone 4 looks like.
So RIM, thank you for a few years of good service. But you’ve wasted your opportunity. The 9700 is my last BlackBerry ever.