Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link iPhone: Can it replace my Blackberry?

I have been using the iPhone now for about a month. Most reviews have looked at the iPhone as an iPod with benefits or as a quantum leap in cell phone user interface design. But the real question is: Can it replace my Blackberry? Because you see, I am already married and unless this new device is so good that it makes me want to divorce my Blackberry, then it will be relegated to seeing me only at dinner parties and while traveling. So before we even discuss the iPhone, we need to talk about the competition.

My love affair with the Blackberry goes way back. I had the little blackberry that looked like a pager and then several others leading up to the new world phone Blackberry 8830 by Verizon (GSM and CDMA). I have also been a loyal Verizon customer because although their customer service is mediocre and they never let you forget that they are the “Phone Company,” the actual cell phone network is second to none. Inside the Lincoln tunnel going to NYC? Sitting on a train within the tunnel to NJ? No problem. 3 bars or better. In NYC, Verizon cell phones often work in the subway until the door closes. Most folks won’t admit it, but a Verizon Blackberry can typically send and receive email several times from a window seat on a coast to coast flight. Wow.

My Blackberry is hooked up in the best configuration possible: directly to our Microsoft Exchange server using the Blackberry Enterprise Redirector. I don’t sync my Blackberry. It syncs over the wireless network in the background, all the time. When I replace my Blackberry periodically (they don’t last forever and between dropping them, banging them and somehow exposing them to submersion, I tend to get a new or refurbished one once a year), the Blackberry reincarnates itself over the network like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. I just put in just my email address and a password and my email, contacts, calendar, notes and even web browsing bookmarks show up on my new Blackberry. This is the right model for a portable device. It gets its personality from the network and the device itself is fungible.

When I respond to email on my Blackberry, it shows up as replied-to within Outlook. And if a calendar entry is added by my assistant to my calendar from a desktop computer (for example and updated location for a meeting) then my Blackberry gets it silently in the background. It is PDA nirvana. True enough that I can not watch movies or listen to music on my Blackberry, but frankly, I don’t do much of that at work. It would cut into my techcrunch time.

If someone sends me a meeting request, I can respond wirelessly on my Blackberry and it feels to the recipient that I am sitting at my desk.

So if the only PDA you have ever touched is a Palm device running Good Link or something against a POP account, you just haven’t lived. Period.

Now with that context out of the way, can I just use my iPhone?

The short answer is not yet but it is tempting.

Having to tether the iPhone via USB to the mother ship to get contacts and calendar entries is a big negative for me. That would take me all the way back to Blackberry circa 1999.

For email, the iPhone is ok – certainly the ability to render HTML email is superior to the Blackberry, but the iPhone does not continuously send and receive email in the background like a Blackberry. Instead, it periodically polls for email. That is just not satisfying enough for someone who sometimes just stares at the upper right corner of their Blackberry watching for incoming and outgoing packets.

The keyboard is workable on the iPhone, but I am faster on even the small Blackberry 8830 keyboard with its too-cramped keys. Yes, I practiced and timed myself on both. At the end of the day, I can look at the screen and type on a Blackberry because there is tactile feedback, something the iPhone does not have, even with all its whizbang predictive correction software.

I hooked my iPhone up to our exchange server using IMAP. This is probably just about the best configuration possible for an iPhone, and yet it fails to match the Blackberry in its ability to mirror the desktop experience.

The ATT network is pretty much a disaster across the board. The Edge network is too slow for anything but email, and even there it is painfully slow to watch the iPhone check mail, something that it does when you start the mail client. ATT has exactly zero bars of service in many places. I just was in the Grand Canyon this past week and took both devices. My Verizon Blackberry did have intermittent service within the Park. The iPhone? Nothing.

The iPhone will use a WiFi network, and there it is brilliant. And as has been roundly noted, the Safari web browser on the iPhone is by far the most usable implementation of a web browser on any portable device, bar none. The iPhone gets this award even though there is no Flash plugin for the thing so you can’t see any Flash content on the web. Phanfare web albums  look great on the iPhone (too bad the Flash slideshow won’t play). The Blackberry browser is best used to get a phone number or other very small piece of information.

Yes, the iPhone has a dedicated Google maps app, but the lack of built in GPS is a huge missing feature to having it route you, and if you are on the road and using the Edge network, it is slow to be useful anyway. Within the office the maps feature is nice, but how far are you from a desktop computer when in the office?

As an around-the-office device, browsing the web, reading email, the iPhone’s HTML rendering of email and ability to browse the web overwhelms its other shortcomings. If only you could get WiFi speeds from the iPhone when outside your office consistently, then maybe.

As a phone, the iPhone needs a software upgrade. On a Blackberry, I can call a person with about 3 keystrokes and a click. First push brings the phone mode up, then I start typing their name and then click to call. On the iPhone, it is just comical. I push the main on button, then push the phone button, and then carefully scroll down through the alphabet to select the contact to call. Try doing that while driving.

As an entertainment device, the iPhone is spectacular. You really can watch a movie on this thing. I bring my iPhone with me when I travel and find that its off-network entertainment value as a video iPod justifies the trouble of carrying it. I recently bought a season of Firefly and watched it while traveling. Note that since the full season was too large to fit on the iPhone, and since I wanted to watch the episodes in order, I had to Google on how to create a smart list within iTunes to get the right episodes synched to the device. You iTunes-a-holics know what I am talking about. Not quite “simple.”

The user interface, as everyone has noted, is a huge leap forward for a portable device. It is intuitive and fun to use. Overall, the iPhone is an intensely lickable device that you just want to endlessly toy with. Apple tends to get the lickability of their devices right. Someone at Apple, we can only assume Steve Jobs, has great taste. We will never go back. Apple has set the bar to a new level. Compared to the experience offered by the wireless carriers (Have you tried Get it Now on a stock Verizon phone? Only a 15 year old could love it) the iPhone is like night and day. Apple knows it. The public knows it, and the wireless carriers know it. We are not going back.

So where does that leave me with my iPhone? Alas, the iPhone holds pretty much the same place my old iPod did. I will take it on a trip or maybe even play with it around the house, but it fails to replace my workhorse Blackberry. But this is the iPhone 1.0. I have no doubt that Apple will win this war. If the iPhone wirelessly synched itself in the background to some good set of web-based apps, like Google’s Mail/docs/calendar bundle, and shipped on Verizon’s network with EVDO, then this device would be hard to beat (note that today the iPhone uses Gmail only via POP).

And then there is the iPhone as a camera. In a perfect world, images and videos (if it supported video) taken on the iPhone would wirelessly sync themselves to your Phanfare account and everything in your Phanfare account would be synched in small form to your iPhone. Someday.

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  • jimmy

    Thank you for the excellent review and comparison. Have you ever used a Windows Mobile device? I’d love to read a similar article comparing the Blackberry with Windows Mobile.

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  • Sara

    Thanks for posting this review. I am like you, except substitute Blackberry for Sidekick and pity me for being stuck on T-Mobile’s network. I’ve had a sidekick since 2002. The multi-tasking ability of the device is excellent and I use it more than my laptop at home for email and chatting and basic web surfing. The killer app for me is definitely instant messaging. It helps that I’m hearing impaired and don’t use the phone much, but I think I would be using IM constantly even if I wasn’t hearing impaired.

    This does bring up a lot of things that Apple/ATT need to address to help the niche market of deaf and hard of hearing users… They need to include IM in their data package – not just use SMS. It is not the same! A service plan that is data only – or includes only a few voice minutes for a cheaper rate. With the Sidekick I can do data only for $30 a month. And last, the video on the iPhone would be useless for me without captioning… unless it’s a foreign film. But this needs to be fixed in iTunes videos on a computer too!

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  • iPhone Confused

    Does anyone know why the iphone randomly arranges the order of pictures when synch’d from an Aperture album. The pictures are carefully arranged in the source album and then appear in my iPhone picture gallery in random order-not by date taken, not alpha by picture label just completely random. Any thoughts on how to properly order the pictures?

  • Bhavesh

    While not autosync, you can use the iPhone to email pics to your mobile Phanfare album.

    The caveat to this is by default the iPhone email app autosizes the photo to 640×480 minimizing your 2 Megapixel iPhone camera.

    As of today, there is a native 3rd party application called sendpics which will email the full resolution iPhone photo. I’ve just tested this and it worked great to upload to my mobile phanfare.

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  • Mike

    “Overall, the iPhone is an intensely lickable device..”

    I can’t say that I’ve had the urge to lick an Iphone ;-) Did give me a chuckle though – thanks!

    (I suppose you meant “likeable”)

  • Stephen Inoue

    Any chance Phanfare can do a non-flash version of the slideshows? I’d love to be able to run a Phanfare slideshow directly from the iPhone. Currently you have to struggle to hit the tiny next button to manually navigate thru the images (because Apple won’t license Flash for the iPhone).

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  • Paul Osborne

    I’ve been using SMEScheduler to handle the issue of meetings with the Iphone – – it does a good job of solving the meeting problem with the Iphone you describe above I think, and the whole app is IPhone ready.

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  • Nick Zamonis

    I guess a lot has changed in the last year, but I thought I would use this as my inspiration for my most recent blog post. I do wonder what you think now that a year has passed.

  • IXUS 80

    I prefer the T-Mobile G1 (“Google phone”), personally. It doesn't mingle with Exchange that well, but works very well if you use Google Mail/Calendar/etc. Nicer to use than the iPhone and more flexible regarding applications/etc.

  • GPSReviews

    Im still torn, maybe I will wait for the nextg of i-phone.

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  • murtiasih2020

    blackberry still the best for me

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