Deathmatch rematch: BlackBerry versus iPhone 3.0

Does the newest iPhone OS eliminate the few advantages the BlackBerry Bold had in our original deathmatch comparison?

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Deathmatch: Web and Internet
Before the iPhone had a wealth of apps, it had a wealth of Web sites, thanks to its Safari browser's support for most modern desktop Web technology, though Flash support is the big omission. That means you can view most Web pages on the iPhone, as long as you are willing to zoom in and scroll. But as noted in the previous section, Web-based tools such as Google Docs are a different story.

The BlackBerry also supports desktop Web technologies, so theoretically you can do the same zoom-and-scroll navigation on it. But in real life, it doesn't work that way. Configuration issues pose the first set of hurdles: BlackBerrys often ship with JavaScript disabled, so you have to know to change that. And though you can emulate different browsers on a BlackBerry, the default settings usually tell Web sites that you are a WAP device (hello, text-only interface), so you have to know to change that too.

[ Discover how to develop Web apps that work on multiple mobile devices. ]

Once your BlackBerry is configured to access the Web, you use the built-in Web browser to navigate pages. This is where the BlackBerry's weaknesses become painfully apparent. You can only zoom a little bit using the BlackBerry's navigation button, and zooming back out is a mystery. Consequently, many Web sites remain too hard to browse. Because the BlackBerry comes with none of the standard Web fonts, even zoomed-in Web pages can be hard to read.

The BlackBerry also can't handle basic Web technologies such as overlapping, hidden DIVs, so many DHTML Web sites are unusable. And filling out HTML forms is exceedingly frustrating, especially compared to the iPhone's use of standard, easily accessible mechanisms. Even with my reading glasses on, most were lost causes.

The only practical approach to most Web pages is with the BlackBerry's columns mode, which essentially stacks all the DIVs in a Web page into a single column. This works, making most DIVs accessible, but it's like drinking the Web through a straw. Expect to scroll past multiple Web pages of site navigation before you get to the site's real content. The columns view is a hack, and like all hacks, it's better than nothing but not a substitute for the real deal.

The bottom line is that the BlackBerry makes mobile Web browsing a painful exercise. You'll do it only when you have no other choice. No wonder that the iPhone accounts for the vast majority of mobile Web traffic -- it's one of the very few handsets that can actually use the Web.

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