Slide this way
On the downside, the range of applications available isn’t great, the pricing seems to be in US dollars only, even though I signed in from a UK account, and far too many of the applications available are highly US-centric (even ones that claim to be UK versions). App World is certainly better than the previous web-based offering that was linked from the BlackBerry mobile homepage, but it’s no competitor for the App Store. And the final straw is that app installation is nowhere near as clean and simple as Apple’s version, usually requiring more key presses and sometimes even a reboot (yechh). I realise that App Store was far from perfect when it launched and that it’s taken time to improve, but I can’t help thinking that RIM has really missed a trick here.
But of course, as I’ve said in a previous column, the real killer is that the actual BlackBerry applications themselves tend to be quite poor compared to their iPhone rivals. Take RIM’s new BlackBerry client, released just a week before I wrote this. While much better than the previous effort, it still lags a country mile behind the iPhone client, which has been out for several months now. To be honest, I’m starting to worry slightly for RIM and its BlackBerry line-up. Where it has traditionally done well is in terms of security, battery life, lower data usage, usability, and of course email functionality. But are these virtues still unique for the Canadian manufacturer?
When it comes to security, RIM is undoubtedly up there among the leaders: the fact that the US president is allowed to carry a BlackBerry (albeit a heavily tweaked one) testifies to that. Battery life is still good too, but as the Nokia E75 shows the others are catching up fast. BlackBerry’s careful use of mobile data volume is far less of a plus than it used to be, as speeds become faster and data bundles offered by the networks become less stingy. For usability the BlackBerry OS is still great, but if you hand a novice a BlackBerry Curve and an iPhone and ask them to perform a few simple tasks, I reckon the iPhone would win hands down since everything is just more intuitive. Then there’s email functionality, where the BlackBerry still wins insofar as it can still talk to Exchange Servers back as far as version 5.5, as well as to Domino and GroupWise, which its main competitors can’t touch, but the BlackBerry can only read (not send) HTML emails, which is making it start to seem a little long-in-the-tooth.
There’s a new BlackBerry OS (version 5) due out later this year, but from the leaked specs and screenshots that I’ve seen that’s a case of evolution rather than revolution. I know RIM is currently posting record sales, mainly to new owners, but I wonder what will happen a year to 18 months down the line, when those people move on to their next phone. Will they stick with BlackBerry? Unless RIM raises its game significantly I’m not convinced they will.
Blue Sky thinking
Speaking of the iPhone, I noticed the other day that Sky has released an iPhone listings and remote recording application, the idea of which is that you might be sitting in the pub and suddenly realise you’ve forgotten to record the latest episode of your favourite TV show. Whip out your iPhone, call up this Sky application, find the programme and click “Remote Record”, and over the next 30 minutes or so Sky will send a signal via the satellite data stream to your Sky+ or Sky HD box that – assuming there are no programme clashes – will dutifully record it.