Deathmatch rematch: BlackBerry versus iPhone 3.0

Does the newest iPhone OS eliminate the few advantages the BlackBerry Bold had in our original deathmatch comparison?

The new iPhone 3.0 OS is now old news, but does its enhancements overcome any advantages that the BlackBerry has over the iPhone? In May, I pitted the BlackBerry Bold in a head-to-head competition against the iPhone 3G, which handily beat RIM's business standard in most areas. After all, the iPhone 3.0 OS enhances the e-mail, calendar, and search functions that many BlackBerry users focus on and that IT loves about the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).

So, here I revisit the original iPhone-versus-BlackBerry deathmatch, updating it based on the iPhone 3.0 OS's changes. That original comparison said it was time to bury the BlackBerry; the iPhone OS 3.0 simply piles more dirt onto the grave. (If you're curious how the new Palm Pre stacks up against the iPhone, check out our new Pre-versus-iPhone deathmatch.)

I didn't grow up in my corporate life with either an iPhone or a BlackBerry. For me, a phone is something to make calls with, and a PDA handles my contacts and calendar. But a year ago, I replaced my nearly dead Handspring Palm-based PDA with an iPod Touch and quickly grasped the significance of the "modern" PDA -- the importance, from both a personal and a professional point of view, of having the Web, e-mail, and more at my fingertips. To me the iPod Touch, and by extension the iPhone, was about as productive as a PDA could be, yet I saw BlackBerrys everywhere in conferences and business meetings.

What was it about the BlackBerry that I was missing? Would the iPhone really fall short in a business setting?

To find out, I spent a month with an iPhone 3G and a BlackBerry 9000 Bold (the professional model that RIM recommended as the best to compare to an iPhone) to see how well each would fare in my daily grind. (For the answers to that, see my stories on using the BlackBerry Bold and on using the iPhone 3G as laptop replacements.) In doing so, I also had the chance to compare the two devices in depth: mail to mail, phone to phone, browser to browser, and thumb stroke to touch-tap. In short, I evaluated them based on everything from classic PDA functionality and usability to location-based services and availability of third-party apps. (This feature revisits those findings in light of the new iPhone 3.0 OS.)

And how do they stack up? Frankly, I've concluded it's time to bury the BlackBerry. A revolution in its time, thanks to its ability to provide instant, secure e-mail anywhere, the BlackBerry has become the Lotus Notes of the mobile world: It's way past its prime.

I was shocked to discover how bad an e-mail client the BlackBerry is compared to the iPhone. And the BlackBerry is terrible at the rest of what the iPhone excels at: being a phone, a Web browser, an applications platform, and a media presenter. With its Windows 3-like UI, tiny screen, patched-together information structure, and two-handed operation, the BlackBerry is a Pinto in an era of Priuses.

Let me show you point by point why most people -- most companies -- should retire their BlackBerrys and adopt iPhones. And why some of you sadly cannot. Note that both devices are available only on AT&T's network, whose coverage and reliability is mediocre on much of the East and West Coasts, a drawback that really hit home when I lost data coverage in lower Manhattan for several hours as AT&T passed me off to roaming partner T-Mobile and its data-less service.

Deathmatch: E-mail, calendars, and contacts I fully expected the BlackBerry to beat the pants off the iPhone when it came to e-mail. So I was shocked by how awkward e-mail is on the BlackBerry.

In both cases, I used a personal POP account and a work Exchange 2003 account. The iPhone works directly with Exchange, so my e-mail, e-mail folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the iPhone, laptop, and server. The configuration was trivial. For the BlackBerry, I first used the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), which acts like a POP server: You can't access your Exchange folders, contacts, or calendars. And man, is the setup painful, as you step through seemingly countless Web-based configuration screens. After struggling with the limitations of BIS, I asked our IT staff to connect me to our BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) instead, which gave me the connections to folders, contacts, and calendars.

It's key to note that BES supports Novell GroupWise and Lotus Notes, while both of those servers support the iPhone only through Web clients, limiting their integration with other iPhone apps such as Contacts and Calendar. (IBM says it will soon add ActiveSync support to Notes, which will then let it have a native iPhone client at some point.) Thus, BlackBerry supports more e-mail systems, even though you have to add a dedicated server to get that support (and upgrade to the latest version to support app management). But an iPhone is much easier to use with Exchange than a BlackBerry is -- at least as a user. Apple uses Exchange Server 2007 for remote iPhone management: remote kill, configuration, and so on. Apple also provides a free app that lets IT admins manage profiles and internally developed iPhone apps on the devices. The hitch is that the management tool can reach the devices only when they are physically tethered to the admins' computers.

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Tags AppleiPhonesmartphonesiphone 3.0RIM BlackBerry

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Galen Gruman

InfoWorld
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