Pigeon holing the iPhone as a fun device and the RIM BlackBerry as a “corporate standard” for business users isn’t quite valid a distinction – as we showed yesterday in Part 1 of our three-part series on this topic.
Based on a 30-day tryst with both devices, we concluded that iPhone trumps the Blackberry in areas critical to the knowledge worker – e-mail, Web browsing, as a phone, an applications platform and a media presenter.
Today, in Part 2, we focus on the actual apps offered for both devices.
RIM has made a lot of noise about its BlackBerry App World store, and Apple recently celebrated its 1 billionth App Store download.
But make no mistake: The selection of BlackBerry apps is not only limited, but the apps themselves are typically pale, pathetic imitations of iPhone apps.
And downloading an app to the BlackBerry usually means wading through several pages and prompts.
I much prefer the iPhone’s simple, fast approach to downloads. Like much of the iPhone UI, the App Store recognizes that you’re using a mobile device and that six-screen legal agreements and endless “Are you sure” confirmations are not mobile-friendly. If you download an iPhone app by accident, deleting it takes a couple seconds – and the whole download-install-remove process takes less time than just starting a BlackBerry App World download.
To add insult to injury, there’s no desktop version of the App World store to peruse available options, as there is for the iPhone, and the BlackBerry’s tiny screen makes it hard to do any real perusing or searching.
I was also put off by the fact that the BlackBerry App World functionality itself is a BlackBerry app, requiring a download before you can even get started. Not only that, but downloading App World to the BlackBerry from my desktop system via a USB connection required me to use Internet Explorer as my browser. (As a Mac user, I can’t.)
The UI for managing apps on the BlackBerry is pathetic. There are at least four places that apps can reside on the device, so finding them is an unwelcome Easter egg hunt. On an iPhone, they’re easily and consistently accessible, and infinitely easier to organize than on the BlackBerry.
Most BlackBerry “native” apps I tried were just glorified WAP apps, not real apps that take advantage of device-specific capabilities, as native iPhone apps do. (WAP is the DOS-like mobile “Web” technology that the cellular industry tried to palm off on us in the late 1990s.)
BlackBerry apps — at least so far — are incapable of doing the cool things that iPhone apps can do, whether acting as a level or a credit card terminal, managing your Amazon.com orders, or translating foreign-language terms (even hearing the pronunciation, which was handy on a recent trip to Portugal).
Awkward interfaces make many BlackBerry apps painful to use, and they usually cost two or three times as much as their iPhone equivalents.
The iPhone has a real OS, and its SDK lets you create real applications, with menus, buttons, interactivity, video, forms, and so on. Plus, you can use Web apps, getting the iPhone’s UI for HTML-based functions such as fields and pop-up menus; you can even save the Web apps alongside your other apps for quick one-click access.
By contrast, the BlackBerry apps often consist of browser forms and buttons (often at tiny, unreadable sizes) that fetch and display data from the Web. RIM might like to think of them as native apps, but they’re really just stubs to Web apps.
Most apps available for business are either personal aids such as tip calculators and expense logs; front ends to sales tools; or basic editors.
The iPhone has better UIs for the first two types of apps. For editing, the BlackBerry has DataViz’s $70 Documents to Go, which is capable and straightforward, letting me do basic text edits in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, and simple formatting such as boldfacing text.
You can cut and paste as well. Tracked changes are removed from the document, and though extensive editing is theoretically possible, you’re hamstrung by the device’s keyboard and trackball.
On the iPhone, I used the $20 Quickoffice for iPhone, a productivity editor that has similar capabilities (including internal cut and paste), plus retains any revisions tracking in the original document. But it can’t work with zipped files.
Quickoffice is a little easier to use than Documents to Go, but Apple’s prohibition against saving files on the iPhone means that Quickoffice can’t get to those e-mail attachments.
Quickoffice does have a cool tool to transfer files to and from the iPhone over Wi-Fi, but you need your computer up and running to do that — in which case, why would you edit the documents on the iPhone?
I also tried the devices on Google Docs. It’s barely possible to edit a spreadsheet in Google Docs on an iPhone; the most you can do is select and add rows and edit individual cells’ contents. You can’t edit a text document, and for calendars all you can do is view and delete appointments.
The BlackBerry lets you see spreadsheets one column at a time — which is useless. Bottom line: Google Docs doesn’t support mobile.
I found several BlackBerry apps to be unreliable and very slow. Salesforce.com, for example, didn’t open for weeks due to an undefined error when connecting to its site. When I finally got it installed, it was very hard to read and use.
I tried five times to download Gokivo Navigator — BlackBerry App World’s top-rated navigation app — at half an hour a pop. It worked the sixth time, and 90 minutes later was installed and running. Not only did the installation take nearly 45 minutes, but then it rebooted the BlackBerry, which took another 45 minutes to grapple with whatever changes were made. This simply doesn’t happen with iPhone apps.
When all was said and done, Gokivo Navigator turned out to be hard to use compared to the iPhone’s Google Maps. It has as many confirmation dialog boxes as Windows Vista — so getting to a result requires many clicks — but lacks the real-time scrolling or page-by-page direction features of Google Maps.
You’d need to be desperately lost to use it — and forget about accessing it in a moving vehicle, given how slow it is and how hard it is to mouse through the maps.
I also found that several BlackBerry apps often hogged my device’s resources, leaving me unable to switch to another application, the Web, e-mail, or the phone. That can happen on an iPhone as well, but the “stuck” times on the BlackBerry were both much more frequent and longer in duration.