Mobility

BlackBerry can't compete in the new smartphone landscape

Jack Wallen believes that the iPhone and Android smartphones will continue to gain ground until BlackBerry developers either totally change their platform or give up the ghost.

I received the BlackBerry Bold just in time for the big Blackberry blackout. When the service finally recovered, I began my experiment. However, I knew that it was going to be a challenge. Why? Simple. Take a non-BlackBerry user (me) who's accustomed to the Android interface, and see how the BlackBerry interface fares in his hands.

I confess that I went into this experiment with many preconceived notions about the BlackBerry. It has been, for the longest time, the tool of choice for on-the-go business users. After all, BlackBerry had the best built-in Exchange support.

Well, times have changed, and BlackBerry is no longer the big man on the Exchange campus. That being said, what does BlackBerry have to offer consumers who are looking for iPhone/Android-like devices? Can BlackBerry still compete in the new smartphone landscape? Let's take a look at the Bold and see if BlackBerry has a chance without serious change.

Hardware

The BlackBerry Bold hardware is most certainly a relationship of love and hate. First and foremost, coming from a world of somewhat cheap feeling, sometimes awkward to handle smartphones, the BlackBerry Bold is a handset with heft and incredibly well-built design. It's ready to take on the challenges of being on the go. And the keyboard? Well, it's quite possibly one of the finest physical keyboards I've ever experienced.

Another thing to really love about the BlackBerry Bold is the power. This little machine responds like a real champ. Multitasking on this device is as instantaneous as any mobile I've seen.

The camera on the BlackBerry Bold is also quite nice. Not only are the images crisp, but the flash works very well, and it offers plenty of different modes.

The love affair doth end there.

The biggest issue with the Blackberry Bold is the size of the screen. Yes, this has been the modus operandi of BlackBerry since inception, but times and desires have changed. The general smartphone user prefers virtual keyboards and extra screen real estate over a permanent keyboard. In fact, the size of the screen almost defeats the purpose of the device even being a smartphone. When one is accustomed to browsing the web or reading e-mail on the "full-sized" screen of a Droid X or Bionic, migrating to any flavor of BlackBerry is quite challenging. The Bold is no exception. With a minimal touch screen, anyone who is familiar with Android devices will be driven crazy with a desire for more.

But it's not just the size that matters. Due to the nature of so many touch screen applications, there's a lot of screen swiping up and down. On the Bold, there's a center button that serves as a sort of touchpad. Whenever the cursor shows up (like when you're using the web browser), you can slide your finger on this tiny touchpad to move the cursor around. The problem is, when you're swiping on the regular touchscreen and your finger accidentally hits that button, the screen you've been scrolling through goes flying in the opposite direction. Not such a great design choice for happy screen scrollers like myself.

Software

At least in the hardware category, the BlackBerry gets a couple of moments to shine. When it comes to software — especially the user interface — not so much. And the glaring problem that the BlackBerry UI suffers from is directly dictated by the hardare. One big issue (at least for those fond of the Android and iPhone) is the lack of home screens. On the BlackBerry, you get one — and you can't add launchers. In order to launch an application, you have to open the app drawer and then scroll through the list until you find the one you need. This strikes me as odd, coming from a phone that claims to own the business market,  because this set up is less than efficient.

And speaking of applications... hello? BlackBerry, did you forget to include an application market? Seriously! I realize that you're dealing with some ancient tech and a built-in audience that doesn't like change, but come on. Yet another strike against the BlackBerry nation.

Finally, the BlackBerry interface is far from user friendly. In this day, one expects to sit down with a new piece of technology and be able to figure out how to use it within minutes — without a manual. This isn't true with the BlackBerry interface. I bet that the Blackberry UI would have even the best Android user staring blankly for a while. Although I'm not an iPhone user, I can pick up an iPhone and be comfortable on that UI fairly quickly. BlackBerry? Not so much.

Why BlackBerry?

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand why the business user has been so captivated by the BlackBerry for so long — Exchange. For the longest time, BlackBerry was the only player in the corporate Exchange field. That is so twelve months ago! Now, both Android and iPhone devices can easily connect to Exchange servers, even without the help of third-party software. With that in mind, it begs the question: How is BlackBerry still hanging on?

Of course, all of this is shot out the door for anyone who's already familiar with the BlackBerry. Those users are accustomed to its quirks, abilities, ins, and outs. But for anyone looking from the outside in, the BlackBerry Bold is a bit of a step backwards in the world of smartphones. Although the hardware performs well along side any of the modern devices, the user interface makes the platform one to be overlooked by the majority of users today.

BlackBerry is losing ground to both the iPhone and Android devices. This trend will continue until BlackBerry developers either totally change their platform or give up the ghost.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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