Goodbye iPhone, Hello Smartphone

I started a new full time job at about the same time that my 2-year AT&T contract ended. My new job provided me with a Blackberry Bold 9700, to chain me to the corporate teat. I opted not to renew my personal AT&T contract, officially retiring my iPhone 3G, as it didn’t make sense to carry two smartphones. The Blackberry is not a perfect device, but I’m wholeheartedly convinced that it’s a terrific smartphone, whereas the iPhone was a neat little computer that could make phone calls.

For the most part, my transition to the Blackberry has been pretty smooth. Say what you will about the perils of “living in the cloud”, but apps like Evernote, Dropbox, PogoPlug, and TripIt have made the bulk of my transition relatively painless. I’ve given all my friends and family my Google Voice number, which rings my Blackberry, so no one really needs to know I’ve even changed platforms.

And speaking of Google, the Google apps for Blackberry reveal just how depressingly myopic Apple’s walled garden approach to apps really is. I know Apple spends a lot of time and money making things work simply and beautifully, but their continued arrogance toward knowing how best users want to use their consumer devices is mind-boggling. I installed the Google Voice for Blackberry app and was absolutely delighted to see two new menu options when clicking on a contact: “Call with Google Voice” and “SMS with Google Voice”. There’s no need to go to a dedicated Google Voice application, as is required with iPhone, because the app perfectly integrates with the native software stack. That, my friends, is what makes a smartphone a smartphone.

I know that I’m late to the Blackberry game. I moved from a Palm Treo 700p to my iPhone in December of 2008. I’d never used a Blackberry, so I was mostly ignorant of the strengths of the platform. For those of you who, like me, haven’t used a Blackberry, I can say without equivocation that they absolutely nail messaging. Email is brilliantly fast. Launching the email application on my iPhone 3G, even when it was brand new and not bloated with apps, was a sluggish operation. Not so on the Blackberry.

The unified inbox is another brilliant aspect of the Blackberry platform. Emails, SMS and MMS all end up in the same inbox. The need to launch a separate dedicated app just to read or respond to a text message often made using my iPhone more of a nuisance than a convenience. Loading the SMS app took time. Tapping on an individual conversation took time. Tapping in the text input field took time as the phone thought about bringing up the on-screen keyboard. The Blackberry, on the other hand, makes sending and receiving texts as fast and as simple as it’s stellar support of email.

Lest this sound like a paid endorsement for Blackberry, let me say that I’m not altogether thrilled with the device. The browser is absolute rubbish. The organization of options is confusing and complicated. I do often miss a touchscreen interface. The blappworld has an anemic selection of apps.

But the more I think about it, the less I care about the selection on blappworld. The core apps I need — Evernote, Dropbox, etc — are there and work great. I don’t need two dozen flatulence simulators or a guide to sex positions or any of the other absolute crap that fills up the Apple App Store. The app selections, I think, perfectly highlight the fundamental differences between Blackberry and iPhone: the former is a smart phone, and the latter is a neat little computer that can make phone calls.

Of course, all of this is just my opinion. If you’re happy with your phone, that’s great! No, really, it’s great. I don’t have a dog in this specific hunt, so you don’t need to justify or explain your happiness to me. If, on the other hand, you’re ignorant of Blackberry, as I was, consider giving the platform a shot.