Mobile deathmatch: RIM BlackBerry Torch 9800 vs. Apple iPhone 4

The new BlackBerry doesn't try to be an iPhone, but does work better with touch

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At first glance, the native apps for both operating systems are comparable, providing email, contacts, calendar, maps and navigation, browser, music player, YouTube player, and SMS messaging. But the BlackBerry has no notepad app, whereas the iPhone 4 does. And the BlackBerry's YouTube "app" is really just a link to the mobile version of the YouTube site.

The BlackBerry apps are, on the whole, clunkier to use but serviceable, with one seriously inferior exception. The AT&T Maps app from Telenav is a primitive, limited app that offers just a bare-bones map view and basic directions capability (no options for transit or walking, as in the iPhone). The Google Maps app that comes with the iPhone is much more capable and easier to use.

App stores and app installation. Using App World continues to be a convoluted experience -- you have to drill down to get any useful information on an app, whereas the App Store presents the key information much earlier (and more nicely). Downloading an app to the BlackBerry usually means wading through several pages and prompts; for some reason, most apps have huge legal agreements that require six or so screens of scrolling (as if anyone would read all that, much less comprehend it). Downloading an app can also take a long time, and once they're installed, you get additional prompts for setup. The result is highly off-putting. The level of disclaimer is unreal, and you're left with a strong sense that you shouldn't be installing any apps. RIM needs to tell its lawyers to shut up. And if you're brave enough to get past all the legalese and setup prompts, you often find you have to reboot your BlackBerry after installing an app. I can't think of any other smartphone that requires such an action.

I much prefer the iPhone's simple, fast approach to downloads. The App Store recognizes that six-screen legal agreements and multiple "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 with the iPhone's iTunes. The BlackBerry Desktop 6 Software only lets you see what optional apps are installed and remove them. (Note: The software took several installations before it became stable on both Windows XP and Windows 7; there is as yet no Mac OS X version.)

App management. The BlackBerry's Home screen stores apps, but you can also put them in a separate Applications folder and in a Favorites section of the Home screen by using the Menu physical button or tapping and holding to get the contextual menu. (You delete applications the same way or by using the BlackBerry Desktop program on your PC.) The Favorites section is handy, but the Applications folder is a level down, so getting to it is more work. Rearranging your apps on the home and other screens is an awkward process on the Torch: You tap and hold an app icon, then tap where on the screen you want to move it to -- you can't simply drag the icon as on the iPhone.

The iPhone's app management process is simpler. For example, it's easy to arrange your home screens to cluster applications both on your iPhone and on your desktop via iTunes; you can also put them in your own folders (the BlackBerry can't do that). Just tap and hold any app to invoke the "shaking apps" status, in which you can drag apps wherever you want, or click the X icon to delete them (press the Home button when done to exit that mode). You can also arrange and delete apps using iTunes on your desktop.

The iPhone has long let you add Web pages to the home screens as if they were apps -- that's great for the many mobile Web pages that are essentially Web apps such as iphone.infoworld.com. The BlackBerry Torch adds that capability through BlackBerry OS 6.

Both operating systems alert you to app updates and let you download them wirelessly; both also let you manage, update, and back up apps via their desktop clients.

Multitasking. The BlackBerry has long supported multitasking, something that the iPhone gained only with the iPhone 4. iPhone apps must be enabled by the developer to use the limited set of multitasking capabilities iOS 4 provides. BlackBerry apps are also limited in their multitasking: Many suspend or quit when you switch to another application; if you press and hold the physical Menu button, or press and hold Alt on the physical keyboard when pressing the Menu button, you'll get a list of the running apps you can switch among. At a practical level, the two mobile OSes are equivalent in their multitasking.

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