The following scenario happens with enough frequency that I need to address it now before it happens again:
A client calls and says, “I just bought new Blackberries for my sales staff. Can you set them up to synchronize with my server?”
“What would you like them to do?” (This is the point where I cringe, because I know the answer, and I know what my response will be, and I know how the conversation will go.)
“I want it to synchronize my e-mail and calendar and contacts.”
“I wish you’d called me sooner,” I say.
“Why?” The client has figured out that good news is not coming next.
I lower the boom. “Blackberries can’t synchronize calendar and contacts wirelessly without additional software on the mail server.”
“But all my friends have Blackberries.”
“I’m guessing that some of them actually have Windows Mobile devices, or Palm phones or iPhones.”
The client, understandably, doesn’t realize there’s a difference, and I have to explain.
“Windows Mobile, Palm and iPhone all synchronize with Outlook Web Access. Blackberry, on the other hand, does not. You can synchronize your mail, but to do calendar and contacts, you need a Blackberry Enterprise Server.”
“How much does that cost?”
“A few grand. Plus, it runs best on a dedicated server.”
“So, what can I do?”
“Bring back the Blackberries and pick a device with a different operating system.”
I hate to have to give that advice, but it’s really the only sensible thing to do. Research In Motion (the maker of the Blackberry) has done such a great marketing job that “Blackberry” is almost a generic term, but all smartphones are not the same.
The Blackberry is great in enterprises, who can afford the Blackberry Enterprise Server, because their IT department can centrally manage and configure all the devices from one location.
They’re good for contractors and single-person-companies too, but they don’t really have an advantage over any other platform there.
Where they are not a fit is in the space in between—companies with a Small Business Server or a dedicated Exchange server. These companies went that route so they could have access to their e-mail, contacts and calendar from anywhere. Unfortunately, the Blackberry can’t give them that.
My personal picks, in order of preference, are:
- Windows Mobile: Windows Mobile phones come in all shapes and sizes. Some look almost identical to Blackberries. Some are smaller and less functional, while some are larger and more functional. Some have touch screens; some do not. You can get Windows Mobile phones from many different carriers.
- iPhone: For usability, the iPhone wins, hands-down (unless you don’t like typing on the touch-screen). The number of other “things” you can do with the iPhone is astounding. Unfortunately, it’s only available through AT&T.
- Palm: Phones built on the Palm operating system don’t have the variety of the Windows Mobile platform, but they have much of the same functionality.
- Blackberry: There’s nothing “wrong” with the Blackberry. It’s just that it doesn’t work as expected for a certain portion of the business world.
Mobile phone preference can be a very personal—almost religious issue. I welcome your comments, questions and corrections.
Update: Since this article was first published, the Droid phone has come on the scene and is proving to be a major player in the business mobility space. For ease of use, I would rate it almost as high as the iPhone, but it has better availablity, as most carriers carry a version of the Droid.
Update 2: Another mark against Blackberry. All Blackberry phones are dependent on Research In Motion’s service, regardless of the carrier. As we have seen over the past couple of years, this service is prone to outages, lasting days. Most other Internet-connected phones are not dependent on any back-end service, other than the carrier.