With Research In Motion unveiling last week its latest flagship smartphone, the BlackBerry Torch 9800, as well as its new operating system, BlackBerry 6, competition in the mobile-device market has heated up for consumers and business users alike.
From a business perspective, BlackBerrys have dominated the corporate world for the past decade. However, the tides are slowing changing due to the release of Apple’s iPhone and of course Google’s Android operating system, which being used by many mobile-device manufacturers. As a consumer and a business user, one must be thankful that we have the power of choice. It was not too long ago when Nokia and Motorola devices ruled the marketplace and smartphones weren’t really that “smart”.
The question I keep hearing these days is “Which device is best for me?” In the end it boils down to your business needs. Whether you’re a road warrior or someone who is at their desk all day, each person has specific needs when it comes to a mobile device. My own personal evolution of mobile-device ownership started with a regular cellphone, went on to a Windows device, then to a BlackBerry, followed by an Android smartphone, back to a BlackBerry, and most recently ended up with an iPhone. I am going to summarize the top-three types of smartphones—BlackBerry, Android, iPhone—in an attempt to assist you with your purchasing decision.
Android: The new kid on the block
Google’s Android operating system hasn’t been around for that long. It made its debut on the market on Google-branded hardware, which Google later retired, deciding to focus on the operating system. You can now find Google’s Android OS on devices from most of the top hardware manufacturers. By now you’ve likely seen the Droid commercials, which I’m sure have contributed to the rise in market share. Android prides itself on being open source and also boasts an extensive application store containing thousands of free and paid apps for your phone. 2010 has been the year of the Android thus far, as its smartphones are now outselling the iPhone and it recently surpassed BlackBerry as the number-one selling mobile OS.
Google Apps: You have seamless integration with your Android smartphone.
Android Market: Extensive application library rivaling Apple’s application store. Lots of bad applications, but lots of good.
Choice of hardware: You can find the Android OS on a variety of phones. No other provider, outside of Research In Motion, offers such a vast choice of hardware.
Open source: This creates flexibility and allows vendors to develop platforms for their specific hardware. This approach will fast track the evolution of the Android OS and its acceptance within the market.
ActiveSync: The Android OS leverages Microsoft ActiveSync for integration with corporate messaging systems. This is unlike the BlackBerry, which requires a server and software for full integration. Android has this out of the box.
Battery life: The poor battery life of my Android device caused me to return it within a month. This comes down to the hardware but most devices aren’t sufficient for business purposes.
Applications: Although extensive, there are hundreds of horrible apps that you must sift through to find something decent.
Fragmentation: Because of its open-source nature, the platform as a whole feels disconnected. It’s hard to describe unless you use one for a couple weeks, but the term “fragmented” came to mind on multiple occasions. Because the Android OS can be found on various pieces of hardware, your Android experience will differ as you move from one Android-powered device to another.
iPhone: Sexy, trendy, versatile
Apple’s iPhone made its debut in 2007 and has since gained a large share of the smartphone market once dominated by Research In Motion. Apple, from a brand loyalty standpoint, is one of the strongest in the world and has a dedicated fan base. Apple has introduced many innovative features in its smartphones and has redefined the mobile-device landscape, forcing the competition to evolve and play catch-up in many cases. Apple’s latest smartphone, the iPhone 4, recently hit the market, running the latest operating system, iOS 4. Unfortunately, the device has suffered a lot of bad press, mainly due to the hardware, but also due to the new OS causing older devices (3G and 3GS) to experience performance issues.
Operating system: Apple’s mobile operating system is one of the best on the market. It is a little consumer-centric but Apple has introduced many key features that cannot be found on other devices.
App Store: The iPhone leverages a vast application store, which allows you to obtain apps for almost anything you can think of. The iPhone has a strong developer following, which leads to some amazing applications.
Web browsing: Apple takes the cake when it comes to Web browsing on a mobile device. Safari does a great job of rendering most Web sites and the large screen definitely helps the experience.
ActiveSync: Like the Android OS, the iPhone OS also leverages ActiveSync for integration with corporate messaging systems out of the box.
Hardware: Just take a look at the latest iPhone 4 and you will be wowed by its slick look and feel. Cosmetically, it looks great and under the hood it is a powerhouse.
Flexibility: The iPhone has successfully bridged the gap between your average consumer and your corporate user.
Battery life: This is the biggest personal gripe when it comes to the iPhone. Unfortunately, you cannot remove the battery and over time it slowly loses its charge. From a business perspective, battery life is critical, and the iPhone falls way short.
iTunes: I don’t know many people that enjoy iTunes. I, for one, find it cumbersome and non-intuitive, and having to rely on this application to manage my iPhone is a con.
Durability: Unlike some other mobile devices, the iPhone is rather fragile. Reading and watching some of the latest iPhone 4 reviews would make me want to purchase a wrist-strap with my phone. For example, the latest iPhone has chemically treated glass on the front and back of the device. Drop it from 12 inches up and say hello to cracks.
Consumer-centric: The iPhone hit the market as a consumer device and over time made its way into the corporate environment. That being said, from the ground up it is designed for the consumer, whereas the BlackBerry, for example, is designed for the business user.
BlackBerry: Tried, tested, and true
Research In Motion’s first smartphone hit the market in 2002. Since then, RIM has focused heavily on e-mail and corporate messaging, becoming the dominant player in this arena. Only recently have Apple and other smartphones made strides within the corporate environment, forcing RIM to evolve and upgrade their offering. Like Apple, RIM develops its own operating system on top of its own hardware.
Battery life: Overall, the BlackBerry provides the most optimal power consumption for the business user. Weeks of standby time, hours of talk time, and a removable battery all contribute to the BlackBerry taking the crown from a battery-performance perspective.
Operating system: The BlackBerry OS is one of the strongest platforms on the market. In my opinion, it has the best contact management, calendaring, and e-mail client of all the devices. It is built for the business user and has extras for the consumer.
Durability: BlackBerrys are known for being rugged devices which can sustain the daily abuse of the workforce. Whether you’re a road warrior or jumping boardroom to boardroom, BlackBerrys are reliable devices.
Productivity: With its renowned mechanical keyboards, the BlackBerry is perfect for the road warrior. You can pound out e-mails, SMS messages, and take advantage of multiple keyboard shortcuts to get the most out of your phone in an efficient manner.
Hardware: Research In Motion, like Apple, produces great quality hardware that is also aesthetically pleasing. RIM also offers freedom of choice, unlike Apple; you can purchase many different BlackBerrys in different form factors.
Applications: RIM followed Apple by releasing its own application store, called BlackBerry App World. The lack of applications and cumbersome interface lead to slow adoption. The latest OS, version 6.0, comes with App World 2.0 integrated within the operating system; it will be interesting to see if this makes a difference. On average, BlackBerry applications are also far more expensive compared to the iPhone and Android.
Web browsing: BlackBerrys, in comparison to the Android and iPhone platforms, provide the weakest Web browsing experience. This has been recently addressed with RIM’s latest operating system. However, they are still playing catch-up in this area.
Business-centric: The iPhone succeeds in bridging the gap with the average consumer, whereas the BlackBerry is still deeply rooted with the corporate community. To me this is an advantage, but many will see this as a weakness. The BlackBerry started as a corporate device, while the iPhone started as a consumer device. The iPhone seems to have had an easier time making its way into the corporate environment, compared to RIM’s battle of trying to make its way into the consumer market.
Server software: To achieve full integration with corporate messaging systems, one must install BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Express. This adds another layer of complexity, management, and cost for a business. Recently, RIM released BESX, a trimmed down version of BES which eliminates the need to pay for the server licensing. It also can work with a BlackBerry Internet Service plan from carriers, eliminating the need for users to pay for expensive BES plans.
There you have it, an overview of the top-three business-class mobile devices and platforms. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect device, which means you will need to weigh the pros and cons when making your purchasing decision. Who knows? Microsoft may come out with the perfect device later this year, when it releases Windows Phone 7. On paper and in person, it appears to have serious potential.