Deathmatch: BlackBerry versus iPhone

Is the BlackBerry really 'yesterday's mobile messenger'?

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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.

Still, I did find two BlackBerry app advantages. One is the ability to cut and paste text between apps (which the iPhone won't get until this summer). The second is the ability to open files in zipped attachments (a glaring omission from the iPhone).

If you want to use apps on a mobile device, the BlackBerry is not a realistic option. If your work forces you to use a BlackBerry, get an iPod Touch for the apps.

Deathmatch: Web and Internet Before the iPhone had a wealth of apps, it had a wealth of Web sites, thanks to its Safari browser's support for most modern desktop Web technology, though Flash support is the big omission. That means you can view most Web pages on the iPhone, as long as you are willing to zoom in and scroll. But as noted in the previous section, Web-based tools such as Google Docs are a different story.

The BlackBerry also supports desktop Web technologies, so theoretically you can do the same zoom-and-scroll navigation on it. But in real life, it doesn't work that way. Configuration issues pose the first set of hurdles: BlackBerrys often ship with JavaScript disabled, so you have to know to change that. And although you can emulate different browsers on a BlackBerry, the default settings usually tell Web sites that you are a WAP device (hello, text-only interface), so you have to know to change that too.

[ Discover how to develop Web apps that work on multiple mobile devices. ]

Once your BlackBerry is configured to access the Web, you use the built-in Web browser to navigate pages. This is where the BlackBerry's weaknesses become painfully apparent. You can only zoom a little bit using the BlackBerry's navigation button, and zooming back out is a mystery. Consequently, many Web sites remain too hard to browse. Because the BlackBerry comes with none of the standard Web fonts, even zoomed-in Web pages can be hard to read.

The BlackBerry also can't handle basic Web technologies such as overlapping, hidden DIVs, so many DHTML Web sites are unusable. And filling out HTML forms is exceedingly frustrating, especially compared to the iPhone's use of standard, easily accessible mechanisms. Even with my reading glasses on, most were lost causes.

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