Mobility

Why the BlackBerry still trumps the iPhone in the enterprise

Despite the iPhone's enhancements, Paul Mah still thinks the BlackBerry is better suited for the enterprise. Read his perspective.

Despite the iPhone's enhancements, Paul Mah still thinks the BlackBerry is better suited for the enterprise. Read his perspective.

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Apple has made the latest iPhone models slimmer than ever, packing in more memory and a faster processor. The iPhone's software stack has also seen improvements in usability and the availability of push "notifications," which are meant to help developers circumvent the single-tasking restriction imposed on them by the operating system.

I've used the BlackBerry and the iPhone on a regular basis, and I believe the BlackBerry continues to trump the iPhone in terms of its suitability in the enterprise. Here are three reasons why.

Data efficiency

One feature that is not so apparent to the casual user is the amount of engineering effort that went into making the BlackBerry platform data efficient. From its push e-mail to the built-in BlackBerry Messenger service, data is sent via encrypted UDP packets (UDP packets are a lightweight protocol with minimum overhead).

While competing technologies such as Microsoft's ExchangeSync (implemented by the iPhone) can be configured to use relatively little data, this requires an additional step and is also dependent on configuring it to match one's usage pattern. In any case, the protocol overhead of using HTTP/S to implement ExchangeSync already generates a fair amount of traffic on its own.

Companies with travelling executives will save greatly from the higher data efficiency of the BlackBerry platform. While being lean will not protect from unwise usage, a side-by-side comparison of two executives receiving the same e-mails will see the BlackBerry user come out on top.

The greater efficiency also translates indirectly to another benefit: better performance in areas with poor coverage. A friend who went to Haiti recently to help out with disaster relief work tweeted about how he was able to coordinate work with other workers via their BlackBerry smartphones even though the ability to make voice calls was intermittent. Besides consuming a lot more data, traditional TCP/IP-based IM would have fallen flat on its face in such circumstances.

Security-centric design

System administrators and IT managers are well aware that there is no security that can thwart a user who insists on downloading and running applications of dubious origins. The BlackBerry, however, comes close with its comprehensive security policies.

There are far more security mechanisms available to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES)-enabled BlackBerry than you can find in any other smartphone platforms on the market today. Options available range from whether encryption is enforced on removable media, on the on-board memory, or on the availability of the built-in GPS or camera.

In fact, the security controls are enforceable down to the application level. For example, it is possible to define whether a specific application has the ability to connect via USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, access phone or location data, communicate with other applications, or access files or e-mail data and all on an individual basis.

The iPhone Configuration Utility allows a number of controls and settings to be provisioned for the iPhone. Despite that, the options available to the BlackBerry are far more comprehensive.

Multitasking

One of the first things I did after getting an iPhone was to jailbreak it. (And, yes, I do pay for all the apps that I use.) My primary reason for doing a jailbreak was to allow myself to run more than one user application at the same time.

I use my iPhone primarily as an e-book, a news reader, and an entertainment device. My iPhone is full of various news readers, which require updating via the network, and waiting for the data to sync can be extremely frustrating. While I understand the rationale in terms of achieving stability and better performance here, but I still think that not being able to multitask is a serious deterrent to business users.

Conclusion

Even with the BlackBerry's stated benefits, I realize that the iPhone will still "win out" in many organizations; usability and having a critical mass of users has a great bearing in terms of what device is popular in the enterprise.

I'm also aware that the BlackBerry has its disadvantages, including the relatively high costs of setting up a BES and its poor selection of GUI widgets in its standard SDK. (I'll write more about these points in a future column.) But despite these drawbacks, I still believe that IT pros are better off investing in a BlackBerry rather than an iPhone for their enterprise needs.

If you prefer the iPhone over the BlackBerry for your enterprise needs, I'd be interested to know why. Please post your feedback in the discussion.

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About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

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