By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A better year for BlackBerry users?

BlackBerry Tour

I like to tell friends with iPhones that my BlackBerry can do everything their phones can do — just worse. I lusted for an iPhone last summer, when I had finally decided to take the plunge on a smartphone. But I would have had to switch carriers, racking up hundreds of dollars in penalties and lost credits. So I instead became the semi-proud owner of a BlackBerry Tour.

Now we iPhone-enviers are getting some good news. In just the past few days we’ve learned that we’ll be able to run Amazon Kindle software, just like an iPhone, and that sometime later this year we’ll be getting a new Web browser. That’s critical, because the current browser is miserable. I use Opera Mini whenever I can, but it’s not the default, and the default can’t be changed. So if a click on a link in e-mail or ÜberTwitter, it automatically calls up the BlackBerry browser, with invariably poor results.

To be sure, a BlackBerry is a pretty good tool for instant on-the-ground journalism. I’ve covered several news events using the (mediocre) built-in camera to post to Twitter. Although I haven’t tried it, I should be able to post instant video as well — even a livestream via Qik. But BlackBerry’s roots are as a business tool — not as a journalist’s best friend. (Here is my TwitPic photostream.)

Certainly there are some things to like about the BlackBerry. By every measure I’ve seen, Verizon’s connectivity is more reliable than AT&T’s. Since I already had Verizon, the BlackBerry was definitely the nicest smartphone I could get. E-mail is very slick with BlackBerry, and typing on the physical keyboard is pretty easy — though I’d trade it for a bigger screen and a good virtual keyboard, like the iPhone has. (I decided against a BlackBerry Storm because I didn’t like the virtual keyboard.)

And now it looks like RIM, which manufactures the BlackBerry, is determined to close at least some of the iPhone gap.

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  1. Dan Hamilton

    With a promise not to turn this into an iPhone rant pro or con, I’d like to comment on the AT&T vs. Verizon aspect.

    I’ve had both (iPhone at present) and they each have their pluses and minuses, so when it comes time to decide whether you should switch, be sure to carefully check coverage and performance in the places you will use the phone.

    On a cross-country Vespa race (I drove a support truck) in fall of 2008, various competitors and support people had Verizon and AT&T phones. I had my iPhone and my co-driver had a Verizon phone. Traveling from San Francisco to Ocean City, MD over a 10-day period, mostly via back roads, there were some places where one carrier worked and the other did not. There were also places where neither worked. And plenty where both worked.

    The consensus was that there wasn’t a huge difference, UNLESS you are stuck in one of the notorious AT&T blind spots such as parts of Frisco and New York City. But even that is changing, mostly for the better.

    Bottom line is be sure to ask around.


  2. L.K. Collins

    Mr. Hamilton comment leads to the thought:

    Ain’t technology grand when it works….

    Something a lot of people forget in their rush for the latest.

    BTW, Apple is being sued now for patent infringement over iPhone capabilities that Apple hasn’t licensed.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: Innovative technology companies are constantly fighting lawsuits. Getting a settlement out of them is a nice way to make some quick money.

  3. Jack Sullivan

    Love my Crackberry. Hate my T-mobile, especially when rumbling through the cranberry bogs on the Old Colony commuter rail. Very pretty, especially in the snow, but I end up playing Brick Breaker more than Web surfing with the coverage holes. Or read the Papersaurus.

  4. L.K. Collins

    Innovation in technology is not Apple’s strong suit. Most of it has been lifted.

    Their GUI was a Xerox development, and the touch screen has been around for much more than a decade. Even the humble Radio Shack beat Apple to the punch with a computer.

    Where Apple has been innovative is in how and where technology is applied. That has been done with skill and flair.

    Kodak, the one suing Apple this time, BTW, has already had success in suing several companies over this technology, including the Blackberry manufacturer, RIM.

    Your claim, Dan, that every technology company faces such suits doesn’t alter the fact that technology is frequently used without permission in violation of patent and copyright law. Apple, like others, has been sued and lost before.

    With you being one who is zealous in his defense of the strict enforcement of intellectual property rights, I would have thought you would have understood the impropriety of such business conduct.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: If Apple is liable, then it ought to be forced to cough up. No problem there.

  5. Mike LaBonte

    Hmmm … the Apple II began selling June 5, 1977 and Radio Shack’s TRS-80 was announced August 3, 1977. Commodore beat them both with the PET in January 1977. Did Radio Shack have a computer before the TRS-80? But never mind the technology, I’m reminded of Apple’s attempt to freely use the name iPhone, a trademark held by Cisco. Yes, Apple is not exempt from copying ideas, although they can’t hold a candle to Microsoft in that area.

    Getting back to BlackBerry, I agree with Dan: the BlackBerry web browser is no fun. My Storm crashed last year, after owning it about 6 months. It won’t boot. I’ll get around to fixing it at some point, maybe to give it away. But I have been happily BlackBerry free since, carrying a relatively “dumb” Symbian phone and an iPod Touch. The crash was all it took to tip me over the edge.

    This does make me ask myself, do I really need Verizon’s coverage? Yes, my calls get dropped only a few times a year, even though I am often in the wilds of NH and Maine, in places where AT&T users turn off their useless phones to conserve battery power. But is it 99.99% voice availability I need, or an always-there Internet connection? I don’t know.

  6. Michael Wyatt

    My son has an iTouch, my wife has a Blackberry Storm, and I have a Blackberry Curve. Count me in with key buttons rather than a virtual keyboard, especially when driving (have the Curve velcroed to the dashboard – low tech, but sticky back velcro tape is the wonder material).

    One thing with BB is to make sure that you keep up with the software updates – not pushed like Apple.

    Formerly Mike from Norwell…

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