Blackberry Crumbles

Blackberries
When our children hear us talking about BlackBerries, they'll think we mean these things. (Image by Liz Brooks via Flickr)

The only real question is, whose government did this?

Blackberry phones are beloved of businesses worldwide because they allow people on the move to communicate in a secure, private way. By the same token, they’re hated by governments – oppressive regimes especially of course, but also those facing internal security threats. (I’ll leave you to decide into which category the UK falls.) So far, their maker RIM has stood pretty firm on not allowing governments to eavesdrop on their traffic.

So when that service suddenly breaks down, first in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and now in South America, you wonder just who it is showing them that business is all about compromise. As in: compromise, or I’ll kill you.

Oh they say it’s a physical fault in their servers. But they would, wouldn’t they?

Tablets In Court – Continued

As for your “Apple is killing the [tablet] marketplace”, as companies like Palm/HP and RIM are showing: there’s plenty of competition that’s doing fine without toe-ing the copying line.

~ Comment by reader Azijn

Not so much, it seems.

HP have thrown in the towel, after their tablet being on the market for an astonishingly brief three weeks. The world’s largest computer manufacturer doesn’t think it can make its money back on tablets. What chance does a relative minnow like RIM have?

Both HP’s WebOS and RIM’s QNX are – or were – really interesting and attractive operating systems, and it’s true that they’re arguably a lot less similar to Apple’s iOS than Android is. (Though it has been argued by some that they’re a little bit too similar to each other.) But it’s immaterial; only Android has the ecosystem of apps to compete with iOS. For the foreseeable future, there is no other realistic alternative to the iPad.

Samsung have clearly being sailing close to the legal wind – in part perhaps to establish just what can and can’t be copyrighted. It’s interesting legally because many of the laws being invoked by Apple were designed to prevent counterfeiting or passing-off of fake goods. Now clearly Samsung are not passing-off. Their products say ‘Samsung’ on the front in large letters. But they know that Apple have managed to create an aura of sexiness around their products. Is the iPhone the ideal size and shape? Is it the most beautiful design possible? It doesn’t matter; people now want something that looks like that. So to compete, it may be necessary to look as similar as you legally can. Perhaps Samsung will argue in court that consumer electronics is more like the fashion industry now.

But I would be happier to see companies attempting to innovate with Android instead. HTC have tried of course, but for sheer inventive madness I think you have to hand it to their neighbours Asus.

What Phone Is Right For You? 4 – The Business End

Let’s deal first with the fact that there are two kinds of Windows phone. Microsoft got into the smartphone business early on by adapting the OS they had created for PDAs to be phone-capable. This ran mobile versions of their Office applications, designed to integrate seamlessly with a workplace PC. Useful to some, but of little interest to the general public – especially as the intentionally desktop-like interface makes it the least finger-friendly OS available. The latest version of this is Windows Mobile 6.5, and you are not likely to want it unless you have specific business needs.

Appreciating that the iPhone had changed the game completely, Microsoft came out – surprisingly quickly – with a whole new OS. They started afresh, with one eye firmly set on a pleasant user experience, and the result is an interestingly different interface made up of ’tiles’ that both indicate the status of and act as shortcuts to services like e-mail, SMS, Facebook and calls. Argument will rage over whether it is aesthetically appealing, but it is clearly highly usable.

What else does Windows Phone 7 have? Pretty much everything the iPhone does actually, including an integrated market for music and video downloads. But though this may make it seem just an imitation of the Apple product, a Zune to their iPod, it does have some real advantages. Microsoft are better at games. Each Windows Phone 7 device is a little gaming console, connected to their Xbox Live service. And of course they have taken care to retain their key strength: mobile versions of the Office suite of apps.

So it’s like an iPhone but with some great advantages. Where’s the catch?

Well the big one: it’s not finished. Aside from the fact that there are far fewer apps yet than for iPhone or Android, it’s lacking features that fans of the old Windows Mobile or of Symbian take for granted, like full multitasking, video calling, VoIP (Skype, etc.), cut-and-paste, or tethering (using it as a broadband modem with a laptop).

Intriguingly, similar features were also lacking in the first iPhone. So it’s expected that they will be added fairly quickly. But unless you are a business user with a pressing need for Microsoft Office, it might be better to wait and see what happens. Things should really get interesting when the first Windows Nokias come out next year.

But if you are a business user – or if you just fancy a touch of that urban professional chic – you’ll also be considering the BlackBerry. Manufacturer RIM first made it big with those two-way pagers that send and receive text messages. (Remember them?) This genetic inheritance shows in the fact that BlackBerries as a rule sport full qwerty keyboards and are designed to integrate with your corporate email system. They’re trying to escape the business ghetto too though; the number of apps available is shooting up, and they’re advertising on TV. But for the general user it’s hard to see any real reason to prefer it over its rivals.

Except one: BlackBerries can make an unbroken encrypted link all the way back to their home base, wherever in the world that is, preventing any possible interception of communication. Which is why some governments have banned them as being far too useful to spies and criminals – or to dissidents.

Which, you have to admit, is cooler than most.

Well that’s the businessy stuff. Tomorrow let’s look at phones we might really buy.

Windows Phone 7

What Phone Is Right For You? 3 – Enter The Gladiators

When you buy an advanced smartphone, the choice is less about the manufacturer than it is about the operating system (OS), the software framework that manages the phone and its apps. Each of the contenders has its way of doing things, each its benefits and pitfalls. Right now, you basically have a choice between these six:

Android – On an ever-increasing range of phones, most notably those from HTC and Samsung.

BlackBerry OS – On RIM‘s BlackBerry devices.

iOS – Apple’s iPhone (As well as the iPad and iPod Touch)

Symbian – Particularly on Nokia’s high-end phones, but also ones from Sony Ericsson and various Japanese manufacturers.

Windows Phone 7 – Currently found mainly on phones from HTC, but should be appearing on Nokias later this year.

Windows Mobile –  On many devices, again perhaps most notably those from HTC.

There are a couple of others like HP’s WebOS and Samsung’s Bada, but these are the ones you are likely to meet. How then do they differ – and where do they excel? We’ll begin, later today, with the more business-orientated. You know, the ones you can justify buying by pretending they’re for work.