Smartphones

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.

26 comments
blackweaver
blackweaver

That may be so in the US but here in Nigeria BB has something that none of the other smartphones have: the BB messenger. Any given day on facebook i see people broadcasting / exchanging pins; i'm not a BB fan, my colleagues in the office have been trying to convince me to join the BB bandwagon but so far i have refused. Nevertheless it would be silly of me to say that BB is dying over here.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"BB can't compete in the new CONSUMER smartphone landscape"

rdevereux
rdevereux

As someone who has used a Blackberry for two years now I can honestly say it knocks Android and Apple smartphones into a cocked hat on the most important element of using a phone - the ability to interact with the hardware. It doesnt have a wireless system that drops out when you touch the case and it has a nice solid keyboard that you can type on in all situations never hitting a wrong key when typing in a long password or complicated technical phrase. The best options of Apple and Android still offer a frankly crap touchscreen keyboard that is far too small for most adults fingers - proved by the fact that my text-happy wife took the best part of five minutes to type a simple two word text to me on her new Android phone yesterday and spent most of the setup time have to rotate the phone to make the keyboard long enough to use. I would be the first to admit that the App World on Blackberry sucks and seems to be getting worse and more memory hungry as it grows but I can't say either of the other stores works particularly in the user's rather than the seller's favour.

ITOdeed
ITOdeed

I have a Bold and the only thing I dislike about it is the screen size for web browsing. But I don't do a lot of web browsing anyhow, except with a laptop of course. For emails and weather radars, the BB screen is okay. I think anyone who expects the same web results that iPhone and Android provide will be disappointed with a BlackBerry. But for my use, it does everything I need for it to do. I love the physical keyboard, and I don't like the flaky touch screens.

Tink!
Tink!

Depending on which device you get first will probably determine what device or which OS you prefer. Provided of course, that you took the time to familiarize yourself with that first device prior to trying another. Myself, I always wanted a Blackberry when those were the main smartphone being sold. By the time I was able to acquire my own smartphone however, Android was the big deal and that's what I got. The people I know who have a Blackberry are equally split, half like them, half don't. I have not heard complaints from anyone who owns only an iPhone or only an Android phone. I wish I was lucky enough to have tried all 3. As a Droid user I do believe I wouldn't like the screen size on a Blackberry. I do however, advocate keeping the full keyboard vs a virtual one. Not that I don't use the virtual one, but with the full keyboard I have much higher quality messages (faster messaging and far less typos.) I don't care if my phone is never credit card thin, I want my full keyboard!

info
info

Usually I give reviews like this the benefit of the doubt, but Jack...You really dropped the ball with this one. To a 'computer-savvy' user, you're right. The Blackberry, despite it's solid OS, hardware features and basic functionality, lacks flexibility, expandability and, I'd say glamour, would probably be the best word to describe it. In my IT environment, we standardize on BlackBerry, but if a user has ANY device at all, I support it. So I'm familiar with most devices and just as comfortable with any of them. The iPhone is the slickest by far, but lacks business 'sense', if you will. It also ties you down to Apple's 'iTunes-centric' model. Which isn't a bad thing depending on the user. Android devices are pretty cool, with fancy screens, lots of apps and whiz-bang features and eye candy. But they're the Linux of this World, there's no standard, no 'solidity', to any of it. Something new comes out before they've worked the bugs out of the OLD stuff, software and hardware. And yes, despite it looking awesome, virtual keyboards get tired really quick. Especially if you've just eaten a sloppy hotdog and want to type an Email quickly. All of this talk of RIM 'going down'...I don't understand it. Sure, they're losing market share. But the market is expanding rapidly in the CONSUMER space. Where glitzy gadgetry and specs wins out over stoicism and purpose. (The VP of our company once asked me, after a meeting, why she didn't have 'as nice' a notebook as the other attendees. I told her that their shiny silver Toshiba Satellites looked pretty, but they probably couldn't survive a 20' drop like her dull-looking black, interior-reinforced IBM T61, which was 3x as expensive.) The business world isn't immune to 'style over substance' because we like shiny things, but function usually wins out over form in the end. The Blackberry just WORKS, and people in their middle-years that are business-focused tend to take to it faster and like it more than the competition. The people I support, most have trouble with the Blackberry GUI, but get absolutely LOST with most Android ones. Another company VP was sold a Galaxy S. Three months later he brought it to me "before I throw it into a lake." I got him another Blackberry, and he was happy. I'd meant to root the Galaxy and use it myself, but never got around to it. I realized while using it that it just didn't work as well as the Blackberry for what I use it for.

Kattella
Kattella

I think you obviously wrote this article prior to the release of the BlackBerry Torch 9810 (second generation Torch). The screen is much larger than the Bold. It is a high resolution touch screen with a slide out keyboard (the same board that you complemented in your article) The new OS is much more user friendly and features Blackberry World for apps (BTW, how many freakin apps does one person need??) plus, what you don't get on the phone are a click away at crackberry.com. The platform is much more "friendly" when it comes to 3rd party apps than iphone since Jobs made sure that Apple always gets their slice. The hardware has the feel of a real phone not a breakable toy in your hand and you can utilize a full function touch screen that works in horizontal mode as well. You can have the best of all worlds. It has a very navigational trackpad for those that are used to a real mouse experience.Plus you still can't beat Blackberry push email it still ranks the best in service. What's not to love? (I think AT&T is all I don't love).

a.portman
a.portman

It took me about five minutes to change my BB Curve to a screen theme that put a home row of buttons on the main screen. It took me about 30 seconds to figure out how to sort my icons into the order I wanted. How did you miss these? I love the real keyboard. I can type about as fast on the Bb as a laptop. I have fat fingers. Virtual keyboards are just a pain to use for me. Ok, the Bb app store is hard to use, had a TON of crap and asks an arm and a leg for anything useful. For those who think all those other apps are all games, real people doing real work use them every day. They ain't all Angry Birds. Yes the screen is small, I can live with that to be able to type. Big drawback, no acrobat reader without paying for it Big drawback 2 browser that just doesn't cut it Drawback 3 battery can get sucked to zero pretty fast.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Take a non-BlackBerry user (me) whos accustomed to the Android interface, and see how the BlackBerry interface fares in his hands. ... Of course, all of this is shot out the door for anyone whos already familiar with the BlackBerry. Those users are accustomed to its quirks, abilities, ins, and outs. But for anyone looking from the outside in, ..." Okay, take someone like me, who is moderately comfortable with the BBs I support. Would I have similar difficulties adapting to an iPhone or Android-based system? I've never seen either one of them. Incidentally, I'm testing a new Bold from Sprint. There's an icon, a round circle with the BB 'rabbit droppings' logo on a blue background, labeled 'Blackberry App World'.

Gkiss
Gkiss

I've been a BB administrator at my company for 7 years now and have been working with all different models these years. My personal phone is an iPhone; therefore I see the differences between these phones on a daily basis. Sorry Jack, but it seems that you just jumped on the bandwagon of trashing BB's, without really looking at the units capabilities. First, iPhone had a blackout a couple of years ago that lasted 5 days. Anybody remember? So what? Hardware fails sometimes. Facts of life, especially when all that junk is made overseas???..But we have to keep trashing these companies over that for years? What a joke! On the BB hardware side: especially on the Bold, you CAN add launchers - you CAN move ANY applications out of their home folder to your main screen. You can have 4 different home screens and customize it any way you like it: add\remove\move apps around. There is also an icon\application for the BB App World. Did you REALLY have the phone in your hands????? As for the "built in audience that doesn't like change", not every business person lives on the net 24\7, therefore their requirements ARE different. The fact that they can open AND edit Word\Excel documents means more than checking out Facebook buddies on the fly (even though they can if they want to). On the corporate users side what the BB's have to offer is perfect ??? the BB is a corporate tool, without too many of the play elements and does that job efficiently and well. When, as BB Administrator, I can set up different user groups for different security levels on OUR BES and have total, LOCAL, 24\7 control of our environment, the security of our own data - to me that is a pretty great corporate tool. As I said at the beginning, I have an iPhone for my personal use and I love my toy. However, as incredible as it may sound to you, I often wish that more of the BB's customizable features would be available on the iPhone.... I very strongly disagree with most of your "opinion" here and would like to advise you to take a closer look. Oh, and another advice: Check your spelling on your android before submitting an article for the world to see...

PineappleBob
PineappleBob

As others mentioned, RIM has an "AppWorld" for BlackBerry devices. While it may not have 400 farting apps, it does have many productivity apps. Also, the apps native to the device are quite good for getting up and running straight out of the box. Launchers are indeed available for BlackBerry as third party apps, but BlackBerry also has the ability to relocate all icons to the order you prefer. My main productivity apps are all front and center and I almost never scroll to find an app. Another fine point of customization you missed is the ability to use the hardware keyboard for application shortcuts and phone dialing, ala speed dial. Out of the box if you set the Phone "Dial From Homescreen" to off, then the following buttons are pre-set to launch apps: M=messages, D=Memo Pad, N=BBM, U=Calculator, A=(Press and hold)Lock Screen, Q=set to vibrate only mode, B=Browser, L=Calendar, T=Tasks, O=Options, A=Contacts. Using these shortcuts, plus press and hold other keyboard buttons for my speed dials, I almost never use my contact list to dial for a phone call. The BB is so well set up with hardware keyboard that one hand use can be extremely effective and efficient. Certainly a small screen is a drawback for those who need a phone to entertain, so then get a big screen phone and be happy. Also as others mentioned, RIM has a few large touch screen devices. But to assume what you have written to mean the end is nigh for BB and RIM is a joke. Many people do not want to web browse on a phone and thus a large screen is nothing more than a battery killer. Speaking of which, why not make phones a few millimeters thicker and give them decent batteries. All my iPhone and Android friends must charge during the middle of the day, I find that terribly annoying. You also mention one of the best features of a BB and that is battery life. For those of us who are outdoors often, the ability to recharge every other day is nice. I had an Android HTC Inspire for a week, and that was aweful. The only joy was the big screen. Other than that, with basic use, after 2 hours I was down to 85% battery, where the BB was at 100% battery still. Also the radios in the BB, in my experience, hold and handle phone call batter than the HTC I used or any of the iPhones that my friends use. For me a cell phone (smartphone) is first and foremost a phone, and had better have excellent call quality and ability to hold signal, which is still lacking in my region for the ipone 4 and 4s as well as many of the Android phones. The BB is quite user friendly if you take the 5 minutes to walk through the intro screens the first time you set up the phone, it shows you many of the features and how to use them. And finally, if you think the user interface was bad or less than efficient, there are countless thousands of themes available for download, both free and for a price. I have run themes that make my BB look like an Android device, and iPhone and even a WP7 device. It is funny to show an Apple fanboy an Apple theme on a BB, it really disrupts their equilibrium. I usually enjoy reading your articles and blogs, but this one throws all the old ones into question if you can title it as you have but not made any real research. I'd be willing to bet you actually did not use the new Bold for more than half a day. I was at least honest and gave the Android a full week to get used to it and learn the ins and outs, yet the interface was not coherent for how menus worked, the ringtones and speaker volumes were always low even at full volume, the battery life was abysmal, the inability to properly notify me of emails and texts was enough for me to go back to BB.

briang
briang

I've tried Android, Phone7, and BB phones, and keep coming back to the BB as the best of a so-so lot. Their hardware is adequate but never the best, the OS is a bit clunky but useable, and the range of apps is adequate but hardly terribly broad. BUT they offer push email w/o me having to set up Exchange, pretty good battery life, a great keyboard, the ability to have a single-button backup of the entire contents of the phone onto my PC, and data security is built-in and not an afterthought. The other brands all want me to upload personal data to their cloud servers (for them to peruse and do who-knows-what), and that just ain't gonna happen for a lot of companies much less security-conscious individuals. The 2 biggest issues against BB for me are the lack of Linux interface and their data network as a single-point-of-failure.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

I disagree in several points with you: - App Store--> Blackberry already have that. There is tons of app you can purchase or download in BB App World. There is nothing to compare with Apple Store in Iphones but the app is there. - Keyboard: the virtual keyboard is awfull, all people I know with iPhones and Android devices complains and wants qwerty phisical keyboards. And the Bold have one of the best keyboards around. - Exchange: there is no device to handle exchange integration like Blackberry. Remember you cannot only sync inbox but all folders in real time. With BES or BES Express, your users have fully synched inbox, sent items, notes, tasks and calendar bi-directional in a second (real - realtime). - Bussiness: Blackberry have a control / monitoring platform like any other device. From a console a IT admin can control location, policies, status, deployment etc of all devices in a company. You can install a software (like messageone) in 400 devices in 3 minutes. You cannot do that on other smarthphones. - Instant backup: blackberry can be activated wirelessly by the user without technical knowledge at all. A new device with enterprise activation can be activated, configured, etc in 5 minutes with only entering email and password. After this, all email, calendar, notes, tasks, languages, favorites, plugins, etc are downloaded, configured etc very easy and automatic. There is nothing better than blackberry in this case. - Bi-directional. When I send an email from my blackberry, I go to outlook and see the email in sent items. I'm wondering if this works in the same way in iPhone and Android? (I don't know).

jdaughtry
jdaughtry

The Blackberry is a business tool. It is the best at doing what people really need in business - telephone and business email. All those "apps" are mostly for techno-children with nothing better to do than entertain themselves. Blackberry makes a product that lets people conduct their business.

Artifiring
Artifiring

I would like to start by saying that I am personally an Android fan and I am an owner of both an Android smartphone (DroidX) and a Blackberry (Torch 9850). As others have mentioned, there most certainly is a "store" or "market" in the Blackberry devices via the AppWorld. It is not as intuitive and most certainly not as populated as Android Market or the Apple Store, but it does provide a good experience. Thus far, any of the apps I have looked for that I wanted on my Blackberry, I was able to find relatively easily. Getting into the Hardware, you complain that the biggest Blackberry hardware issue is the lack of screen size and virtual keyboard. Did you not look into the new Blackberry Torch at all. It is a full touch screen device with no physical keyboard. It was designed specifically for those that wanted to shy away from the traditional Blackberry foundation of half-screen with full physical keyboard. I do agree with your overall opinion that Blackberry will not sustain in the long run, but your article sites many of the wrong reasons, due to mere lack of time and research put into the device and other Blackberry devices. Also as a note to the commenter suggesting a full keyboard on a Android phone, they tried that already. Motorola released a phone called the Droid Pro which ran Android and had the full keyboard. It has been out for awhile now and has yet to own the market...

dbc_techrepublic
dbc_techrepublic

Usually I have more in common with your opinions than I find faults, however we differ vastly on saying that general smartphone users "prefer" virtual keyboards. Are you kidding? I absolutely love what my Android can do for me but absolutely despise the virtual keyboard. With Swype, Hacker's Keyboard, Thumb Keyboard ... doesn't matter. They are all substandard. The first smartphone maker that puts Android (or dare I say IOS) on a Blackberry Torch-style hardware - full screen with hardware keyboard - will absolutely own this market. Blackberry still owns business communication because executives need to type emails. Period. I fail to understand why the vendors have not figured this out.

Sam1jere
Sam1jere

There is an App World as pointed out, with some variety of products too. The Store though is not as extensive as that of IOS or Android and could do with some work. The Bold is one of the best smartphones I've ever used but there is lots of truth written here. While I haven't fully explored OS 6 or 7, it feels clunky and slow (awkward even) Vs the aforementioned alternative platforms. The browser is also one in need of a total overhaul. In fact, few know the BlackBerry browser uses webkit like Google's Chrome but that might be where the similarity ends. Whereas Google's product is lightweight, fast and secure, the BB browser can feel quite slow. Touch might be one area RIM needs to explore, as is use of virtual keyboards to free up screen real estate. The other might be more memory (an issue I've read RIM is reworking in future models). I however think a total overhaul of the software platform (e.g. OS 7 and QNX) is what will ace it. That, coupled with the Berry's famed security (encryption) will be a key selling point. Overall it's a sad read about a magnificent product.

bboyd
bboyd

They will hold the niche markets for mid grade secure phones until someone focuses an android fork on task. Other than that and the inertia of the folks who have a large part of their life shoehorned into a BB phone like my lawyer friends I don't see a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Nicolims
Nicolims

We just bought two 9810 BlackBerry with an interface of both world : a wide touchsreen and a confortable keyboard and believe me with the latest OS its very convienient.

parkinsonp
parkinsonp

Blackberry has a well developed application marketplace call Appworld. I gather you could not find the Appworld icon your device. If you are going to do a review or personal experience piece on a device please take a few minutes and learn about the device before stating things that are completely wrong.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Our BBs are on Verizon, and we're successfully testing units from Sprint. We dropped AT&T because their coverage in our area was poor and erratic.

info
info

Acrobat reader? Mine read PDF files right out of the box...

dbc_techrepublic
dbc_techrepublic

This hasn't been available in Canada. I don't know what market share it has elsewhere but I found a press release saying Bell Canada release on Nov 7 2011 (2 days ago) in Canada for the Droid Pro+ 4G. I don't see it on their web site but I would break my contract and change carriers for that.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Incidentally, my father won a new Torch in a drawing. He has no use for it (or any other smartphone). Feel free to contact me if you want to purchase it.

jlwallen
jlwallen

so i went back to the Bold to check it out. out of the box there was no icon for AppWorld. I noticed there was a software update available, so I went through that process. After about an hour of updating, viola! I had an AppWorld icon in the app drawer. Now, I have to say though, I was pretty disappointed in the AppWorld. Remember, I'm used to the Android Market which is an incredibly user-friendly application store with hundreds of thousands of choices. I found AppWorld less than user-friendly with far less choices. But, I do stand corrected on this issue. Thank you so much for pointing it out. Jack

jlwallen
jlwallen

I looked at every icon in the "app drawer" of that Bold and saw nothing that indicated an App market. In fact, after I didn't see anything, I googled it to find plenty of pointers to articles on install apps by downloading the app package and then transferring it to the device using the PC Desktop software. Thank you for point that out. I will look on the device again.

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