Goodbye iPhone, Hello (Again) BlackBerry
I am now a reverse switcher - I switched from a BlackBerry to an iPhone about six months ago, and now am switching back again. Why? Basically it comes down to the fact that the iPhone is really good at the stuff I do 10% of the time, but pretty poor at the stuff I do 90% of the time.
This is not to bash the iPhone. It has been a transformative device in the wireless industry, and forced everyone else to up their game. It has shuffled the power structure between device makers, service providers, developers, and the broader ecosystem. But such a sophisticated device is a very personal choice and people have very different priorities for something they use and carry around with them almost every waking hour. My phone is provided by and for work, and I primarily use it for work purposes, and for that I find a BlackBerry much, much more efficient.
Now after having a BlackBerry Bold for a week, I realize how much I was fighting with the iPhone the whole time trying to get it to do what I wanted, at the speed I wanted.
There are definitely some things the iPhone does extremely well:
- Maps: The best out there. Invaluable for me, and I’ll miss these, though the latest rev of Google Maps on the Bold does all the same things. It just misses that last bit of visual flair.
- OmniFocus: I’m not really a big app buyer, but this GTD-based task manager is the one app that I use everyday. I will lose it on the Bold, and I will miss it. (I’ll continue to use it on my Mac.)
- Photos: I love how conveniently I’m able to synch my Aperture photo library with the iPhone, and the experience of showing photos on the screen. It’s not something I do that often, but it is very handy when I want it. (I’m mystified why it’s relatively laborious to get photos off the iPhone and into Aperture though, requiring a manual import process as though it were any other SD card.) The imminent Desktop Manager for the BlackBerry promises similar photo (and music) syncing.
- Facebook: The iPhone Facebook app is mostly very good (though often hard to get a refresh), and the new version looks to be even better. But the current FB app on the Bold works very well, is actually faster than the iPhone one, does everything I need, and I find more intuitive to navigate.
- Safari: It’s the best mobile browser, and while it has it’s downsides in general it works very well. But I don’t do much mobile web browsing, it’s just not that much fun - still slow and inconvenient, and only worthwhile when there’s nothing else to do or you’re in a pinch. In truth, it’s often more pleasant to look at mobile-specific versions of web sites like NY Times, Southwest, than it is to try and look at the real page. They load faster, require less scrolling, strip out the advertising, etc. In fact, looking at NY Times mobile is faster than using the NY Times iPhone app (though it doesn’t allow caching, but I was never organized enough to cache ahead of time anyway).
Now for the things I dislike about the iPhone:
- Typing is what I do more than anything else on the iPhone, and it’s the thing that causes me the most frustration. It’s my #1 reason for switching. If I could get on with the touchscreen, I would probably keep it. But I just don’t like the touchscreen. I am literally 3x faster typing on the Bold, which has an excellent keyboard. No matter how much I “just trust” the iPhone, the number of typos and deletions I have to do is just unacceptable. Yes, it’s all well and good to have smart predictive typing, but it keeps doing “fir” instead of “for”, “sane” instead of “same” and so on. The horizontal keyboard helps, but then you only get a few lines of text to actually look at, and it’s slow to switch when you rotate the device, and sometimes seems to get stuck in horizontal mode after I flip it back to vertical.
- Apple’s insistence on the “simple” paned interface is indeed easier to get started with than the Bold, which has more of a learning curve. But unlike the big Mac OS which has all manner of shortcuts, there are none in the iPhone. You have to follow the tortured route from one app or function to another without shortcuts. This is my second biggest complaint. By contrast the BlackBerry UI is incredibly fast to use once you learn it, as you do a desktop OS. The lengthy menus and the amount of customization possible are intimidating at first, but you quickly realize they contain everything you could conceivably want in any context. The 2 convenience keys make it instantaneous to get to your most-used apps.
- Finger prints, ear wax and general grime on the iPhone screen, it’s constantly dirty and this both mars visibility as well as touch gestures.
- It’s tricky to hold to your ear for more than a couple of minutes - too thin at the edge, and slippery. The Bold is bigger in width and thickness (a bit too big IMO), but it is very secure to hold. It’s not quite as well built as the iPhone however.
- Poor battery life - it requires charging every 1.5 days for me, with 3G on most of the time, no wi-fi, and only a few calls a day. Having said that I’m not doing much better with the Bold so far, so we’ll see how it does once I settle into a more normal pattern of usage.
- iPhone camera is very slow to activate (often 7 or 8 seconds for the animated iris to open). It often jogs when I press the poorly-placed on-screen button (causing blur) and my finger often gets in the way of the lens. There’s no flash, no white balance or exposure control, basic photographic features that have existed in other phones for years.
- It’s not that good of an iPod: Using it while it’s locked is a pain. Using it in a pocket is a pain. No way to switch off coverflow (as on the Nano)
- No expandability. No card slots to add memory, you have to buy a whole new phone. With the Bold I can add 8 or 16GB Micro SD cards for a remarkably low price.
The iPhone represents in an interesting paradox that often comes up in usability testing: the UI’s that are perceived as the best to use are not always the fastest. However, over time, people’s opinions often change from their first impressions as the things that didn’t seem that big of a deal at first, and which perhaps aided initial ease of use, now become barriers. At this point, enjoyment drops off dramatically. That’s what happened with me. I was ready to throw the iPhone against the wall a few times because of how slow I found it to use, even as I appreciated its visual loveliness.
- Shuttling back and forth to look at each email account separately drives me batty. If I’m in my work email account and want to see if my personal email has anything new, it takes 4 clicks. And then 4 clicks to get back again to my work account. 0 clicks in Blackberry to do the same thing because it unifies all email accounts (and texts and IMs) into a single “feed”.
- I have to unlock the iPhone on to see if I’ve got a new email, and remember the email unread count from my last time looking at it (for each account). This often takes 30 seconds of constant interaction or more — not a big deal it may seem, but it pulls my focus away from whatever else I was doing more than it should. The notification light on the Bold tells me at a glance when new mail (or SMS or voicemail) has arrived, saving me the trouble of picking it up to check.
- The iPhone Sent email folder doesn’t get populated in real time, and if I want to find a recent message I sent I have to wait for it to download from the server. This can take several minutes if it’s been a while since I looked at my Sent folder. On the BlackBerry Sent emails are included inline with received messages, making them easy to go back to.
- iPhone has no customization of font sizes for emails (message list, or within a message). With such a large and high res screen, why can I only see less than 5 messages at a time if I have the message preview on with 2 lines? (Reduce message preview to 1 line and it goes up to…6 messages visible! And still only 8 if I turn off preview entirely.) That’s just a ridiculous waste of space, and means I have to do a lot of scrolling. On the Bold I’ve got it set so I can see 13 messages at once.
- No auto-text/shortcuts to speed up repetitive message elements (e.g. On the Bold I have created a shortcut sig and typing it at the end of an email will fill out a signature as needed. On the iPhone you can only have one signature, and it’s applied everytime or never. And the Bold will let me create any other number of text shortcuts — mtg for meeting, fdi for frog design, inc. and so on). I was stunned when I got the iPhone that it couldn’t do this, searching in vein for a way to accomplish it. (Third party apps exist to do it in an extremely hacked way.)
- Entering new appointments takes way too many steps due to the iPhone’s modal paned UI approach. On the Bold it takes two button presses beyond the typing of the event name, I can be in and out of creating an appointment in a few seconds. Also the BlackBerry does simple things like allow a default setting for meeting reminders, where on the iPhone I have to select that every single time (I always want one). The numeric keypad on the BlackBerry makes entering times and dates much faster than the iPhone’s gimmicky and finicky slot-machine style tumblers
- No week view. This is my most frequently used view after day view, and not having it is a real pain for planning purposes. The iPhone’s month view is next to useless.
- No snooze for meeting reminders, a huge miss
- Can’t jump to a specific date in the distant future, have to tediously scroll or switch to and from month view. Why can’t I swipe sideways on a day to skip to the next day, like with everything else on the phone? On the Bold, press G (go to date) and enter the date, done.
- Where in the day new appts get inserted seems random. Sometimes late in the day or where an appt is already placed, or even will default to a time in the past! With all the CPU power you’d think it would at least just look for the next open slot. And why can’t I double tap an hour in the day and activate a new appointment at that time?
- Can’t send comments along with appointment acceptance/decline notices - a frequently needed ability to add nuance to the person who requested the meeting.
- On the iPhone dialing a specific contact is rather tedious if they are not saved in favorites. On the Bold I just start typing their name and it finds the number and dials it. I found a third party app for the iPhone that does something similar (thought not as well), but it’s bizarre that with all this CPU and screen that Apple hasn’t rethought this daily activity.
- Muting the phone while on a conf call is a multi-step process that requires looking at the screen. The Bold requires just a button push on the top and can be done blind. Safer while driving, where muting/unmuting needs to be done frequently when on a headset. The Bold also has a nice note-taking feature while on a call, and I can email notes to myself or others afterward.
I’m clearly in the minority with my gripes. Most people seem to love their iPhones. Like I said, I’m not trying to bash the iPhone and say no-one else should like it; this is a very personal choice. But at least for the time being, the Bold is a much better match for my needs.