The New York Times’ gift to BlackBerry users

Click on image for a larger view.

A few weeks ago, my BlackBerry notified me that a new version of the New York Times app was available. I downloaded it but didn’t expect much. Previous versions had been slow and kludgy, and I found that I preferred the Times mobile website instead.

But version 1.1.1 turns out to be a major improvement. You can download the latest Times content to your BlackBerry, either all at once or section by section. That means you can use it in places where the cell signal is erratic or non-existent, like on a train or in a subway car. (I’m pretty sure that was true of earlier versions, too, but those just weren’t usable enough for me to test.)

It also means that you don’t have to wait for pages to download every time you click, as you do with the mobile website. Stories load quickly and are presented on one page — no additional clicks just to read one article. And though the screen on my BlackBerry Tour is tiny, it is also ultra-sharp. I can pretty much plow through the whole paper without experiencing eye fatigue. It’s a nice, under-publicized utility at a moment when most of the media world is focused on the sleek but expensive iPad. I’d love to see the Times make the software available to other newspaper companies — starting with its corporate cousin, the Boston Globe.

Mobile has emerged as a crucial outlet for news organizations, and I have a bit of advice for them: Don’t give it away. Though I staunchly believe that users won’t pay for basic Web access, new delivery platforms require new revenue models.

Yes, there are ads (mainly house ads) on the Times app, but there’s only so much you can do with a tiny screen. The app should be free only for customers who already buy the paper through some other delivery channel, whether it be print, Kindle or Reader.

The Times app has me feeling better about my BlackBerry these days. I still plan to upgrade to an iPhone or a Droid when my contract expires next summer. But now, at least, I find myself gnashing my teeth a little less.

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.

Talking social media at the AEJMC conference

I’ll be spending a good part of this week at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which is being held this year in Boston.

Tomorrow I’ll be on a pre-conference panel called “Social Networking, Social Media: Facilitating the Pro-Am Approach to Journalism and Building Social Communities,” part of a program titled “Reinventing Journalism and Yourself: One Tweet, One Friend at a Time.” I wish I could invite everyone, but I’m told there’s no more seating left.

I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll be doing. I’m more likely to post Twitter updates; you can follow me here. This afternoon I succeeded at posting a photo to TwitPic with my new BlackBerry, so I’ll try to do a bit of that as well.

One giant step for Googlekind

Gmail has finally tweaked its system so that you can send an e-mail to someone using your non-Gmail address and not have Gmail information show up anywhere in your header.

Farhad Manjoo, writing for New York Times Bits, makes it sound merely like a matter of workplace protocol, but there’s more to it than that. If you send an e-mail that appears to be from one of your non-Gmail accounts, but Gmail data still show up in your header, you will occasionally find that the person on the receiving end never sees it, as it gets caught in a spam filter.

That happened to me earlier this year. Because I couldn’t take the chance that people wouldn’t receive messages sent from my Northeastern address, I actually gave up on the Web version of Gmail for a few months, futzing instead with Apple Mail. The horror.

I went back recently after being assured by Northeastern’s IT folks that the the spam problem I had described was probably a random event. But I followed the Gmail instructions this morning the moment I read about them. Given that was by far my biggest complaint about Gmail, I am a very happy customer right now.

Next up: Figuring out how I can send outgoing mail from my new BlackBerry using either my personal or my Northeastern address. Given that all my mail goes to the same Gmail account, I’m not sure I can do that. Any thoughts?