I was shocked to discover how bad an e-mail client the BlackBerry is compared to the iPhone. And the BlackBerry is terrible at the rest of what the iPhone excels at: being a phone, a Web browser, an applications platform, and a media presenter. With its Windows 3-like UI, tiny screen, patched-together information structure, and two-handed operation, the BlackBerry is a Pinto in an era of Priuses.
[ See the iPhone versus BlackBerry side by side in InfoWorld's comparative slideshow. ]
Let me show you point by point why most people -- most companies -- should retire their BlackBerrys and adopt iPhones. And why some of you sadly cannot. Note that both devices are available only on AT&T's network, whose coverage and reliability is mediocre on much of the East and West Coasts, a drawback that really hit home when I lost data coverage in lower Manhattan for several hours as AT&T passed me off to roaming partner T-Mobile and its data-less service.
Deathmatch: E-mail, calendars, and contacts
I fully expected the BlackBerry to beat the pants off the iPhone when it came to e-mail. So I was shocked by how awkward e-mail is on the BlackBerry.
In both cases, I used a personal POP account and a work Exchange 2003 account. The iPhone works directly with Exchange, so my e-mail, e-mail folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the iPhone, laptop, and server. The configuration was trivial. For the BlackBerry, I first used the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), which acts like a POP server: You can't access your Exchange folders, contacts, or calendars. And man, is the setup painful, as you step through seemingly countless Web-based configuration screens. After struggling with the limitations of BIS, I asked our IT staff to connect me to our BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) instead, which gave me the connections to folders, contacts, and calendars.
It's key to note that BES supports Novell GroupWise and Lotus Notes, while both of those servers support the iPhone only through Web clients, limiting their integration with other iPhone apps such as Contacts and Calendar. Thus, BlackBerry supports more e-mail systems, even though you have to add a dedicated server to get that support (and upgrade to the latest version to support app management). But an iPhone is much easier to use with Exchange than a BlackBerry is, at least as a user. Apple uses Exchange Server 2007 for remote iPhone management (remote kill, configuration, and so on). Apple also provides a free app that lets IT admins manage profiles and internally developed iPhone apps on the devices. The hitch is that the management tool can reach the devices only when they are physically tethered to the admins' computers.