Many handset makers have attempted to deflate the immense popularity of the almighty iPhone (from $199 with two-year AT&T plan), yet most have not succeeded.
Whether it’s the iPhone’s large touch-screen, fast 3G and Wi-Fi speeds, thousands of downloadable apps from the App Store, or integrated media player, this trendy phone has become a cultural icon with consumers and increasingly, among corporate types, too.
That said, many mobile workers who rely on a BlackBerry smartphone for its secure and fast push e-mail have been reluctant to make the switch to Apple's trendy device.
Now, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is hoping it has struck gold with its newly-launched BlackBerry Storm ($199 with 2-year Verizon plan), a smartphone that attempts to offer the best of both worlds for customers who want it all: the reliable BlackBerry operating system with support for secure e-mail that’s pushed to the phone, as well as an iPhone-like touch-screen interface to navigate through content.
In fact, the BlackBerry Storm’s touch-screen is the first that actually depresses when you press on the soft QWERTY keyboard and with an audible "click" to confirm letters or numbers have been selected. Some users believe both of these extras make it easier to type messages compared to the iPhone.
So, are these fancy screen features -- as well as expandable memory and a removable battery -- enough to unseat the iPhone? Has RIM created the “perfect storm” to win over the working world? We spoke with a couple of technology analysts for their professional opinions.
According to Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at the New York-based JupiterResearch, now part of Forrester Research, deciding which smartphone to invest might not be too difficult a task.
“For many, the carrier you’re with might determine which of these two smartphones you’ll pick up,” says Gartenberg. “Unless you’re willing to switch carriers -- for yourself or the entire company -- Verizon customers might opt for the BlackBerry Storm while AT&T customers will go with an iPhone.” In other words, the network might be the leading factor, says Gartenberg.
If carrier is not an issue in your decision to buy a BlackBerry Storm or Apple iPhone, it might boil down to what your company supports.
“What’s on the backend of these devices, what it connects into, will help you make a smart smartphone decision,” explains Gartenberg, who suggests talking to your company’s IT person about server and e-mail support.
“Apple is trying to make inroads into the business space, such as announcing Exchange ActiveSync with full Microsoft Exchange support for push e-mail, contacts, and calendar,” confirms Tim Doherty, associate research analyst for small and mid-sized businesses at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based research firm.
“With the Storm, RIM is extending its reach into the consumer market and the touch-screen space, but remains firmly anchored in its framework of enterprise features and functionalities on a robust operating system,” continues Doherty. Small and mid-sized business customers seeking a touch screen experience have a rock-solid business platform to consider; RIM does not have to convince the market that its device will work in a business environment, he adds.
Doherty says the mobile applications your company relies upon will also be a key decision maker when choosing a smartphone.
After carrier consideration and backend support, buying a smartphone for business comes down to personal preference.
“The iPhone’s media playback and third-party app selection is much greater than the BlackBerrys,” says Gartenberg, “plus the iPhone offers Wi-Fi when the BlackBerry Storm does not.”
But not everyone likes the iPhone’s touch-screen interface -- especially when it comes to typing lengthy e-mails (which must be handled vertically). The BlackBerry Storm’s built-in accelerometer, on the other hand, will automatically flip the QWERTY keyboard horizontally when holding the device sideways for e-mail.
There are other issues, too. “Despite Apple’s efforts, it has some shortcomings as a business device,” believes Doherty. “The iPhone lacks copy/paste functionality -- a big deficit for even moderate volume e-mail users from any size company.”
“And the iPhone's lack of voice dialing could be a sticking point for field force and sales force workers who travel between multiple job locations or client visits,” Doherty adds.
There are, however, many third-party apps that remedy these known iPhone shortcomings.
Ultimately, says Doherty, there will likely be room for both devices in the small and mid-sized business market.