TedschadlerBy Ted Schadler

Let me begin by saying that I believe it's time for Information & Knowledge Management (I&KM) professionals to get into the enterprise smartphone debate. After all, the killer application for smartphones is email, calendars, and contacts — all collaboration apps. And the future of collaboration is pervasive — anytime, anywhere, any device. Your information workers need them. You should help define the strategy.

So here we go with Part 1 of a multipart blog post on my experience with these two devices.

I recently took a two-week family vacation to Oregon and funky Northern California. Nothing like eating Humboldt Fog cheese on the beach in the Humboldt fog. The four of us camped some and stayed in some lovely B&Bs. As badly as I wanted to be off the grid, I decided that it was best to have a cell phone to take care of essentials.

So it was a prime opportunity to compare a two-year old BlackBerry Pearl against an iPhone 3G to see which one best handled the common collaboration issues that come up on a vacation: email, directions, schedule, contacts, and "rapid research." Oh yeah, both devices use AT&T's network.

I have some particular attitudes towards my cell phone.

  • First, it has to fit into my pocket.
  • Second, I don't suffer lousy interfaces; if it doesn't work the first time, I usually give up.
  • Third, it's a phone first.
  • Fourth, it's a collaboration and content device second.
  • Fifth, the Mobile Internet has to compete with real Internet experiences.
  • Sixth, the battery has to last all day.

I have long experience with the BlackBerry, but have only recently acquired the iPhone. I've mastered the BlackBerry Pearl's SureType keyboard, with only the occasional email gaff from word substituation. But I had struggled to enter text on the iPhone. Notice the past tense.

First, the nitty gritty on using the BlackBerry Pearl with SureType while on vacation. I love the size, weight, and battery life of this device. It slips into my pocket with barely a ripple. The keys click and the rollerball rolls. All good. Typing with SureType is sometimes a pain, but usually not. But on vacation, typed a lot of URLs, street addresses, and email names of people not in my contact list. SureType falls down there, but the full QWERTY keyboard avaiable on the Curve or Bold would have been fine. And there's always Multitap.

What's more important, of course, is that I get my corporate email, contacts, and calendar on my BlackBerry, often before I get it on my desktop. For a corporate guy like me, that's key. On my way back home to Boston, I waded through 400 corporate emails on my BlackBerry and dealt with 370 of them. Not bad!

But on this trip, I was avoiding the corporate email and instead using my Gmail account. And here the BlackBerry falls short. Gmail on the BlackBerry has the clunky though functional feel of many BlackBerry apps. It works, sure, but using it reminds me of my days as a UNIX administrator: powerful command line apps but little pleasure in wielding them.

How about the iPhone? As I mentioned, I had struggled to type on the iPhone. But no longer. In fact, after two weeks, I'm convinced that the iPhone is as good as the BlackBerry for typing. Here are some tips:

  • Get used to keeping the iPhone in the normal vertical position for typing. That way you'll get used to the key positions. If you switch between the horizontal and vertical positions, then you have to master two key positions.
  • Trust the word substitutions that the iPhone suggests. They are at least as accurate as the SureType suggestions.
  • Finally, arch your thumbs a bit so you touch the screen with the tips of of your thumbs. This improves the thumbing accuracy quite a bit. That took some getting used to.

With these new skills, I found I could type URLs, street addresses, emails, and text messages more easily on the iPhone than on my SureType BlackBerry. And Gmail on the iPhone was a joy to use. The scrolling is a pleasure, the fonts and overall look make it (almost) a pleasure to read that "no vacancy" email, and the typing works just fine. Now, if I can just get my corporate email, calendar, and contacts on the iPhone . . .

Disagree? Please let me know.

In subsequent trip report posts, I'll explore maps, the browser, the New York Times reader (as an example of content formatted for a mobile Internet device), and AT&T's network.