A person's relationship with a cell phone is very personal. Most of us don't go anywhere without it. It is always close by — in our pocket, the drinkholder of our car and, for some workaholics, right by our bed.
My firm was a beta tester for BlackBerry when it was introduced in 1996. It was no bigger than a credit card, and all it had was email. When I showed clients my BlackBerry, some said, "Why would I want to get email away from the office?"
Ah, those were the days.
I loved the feel of the keyboard and quickly learned to type 60 words a minute with my thumbs. The reliable auto text feature allowed me to type in shortcuts like "W D Y T" and have them magically transform to "What do you think?"
At one time, 25 out of 25 of our employees used BlackBerry. Eventually it was down to just me and a colleague who hates change as much as I do.
Through the years I stuck with BlackBerry — or should I say BlackBerrys — because I was hard on my favorite companion — dropping it in water puddles, running over it and testing its limits — but it always delivered. By the mid-2000s, The Alexander Group was a BlackBerry shop with its own BlackBerry server.
By 2011, Blackberry’s products had lost their high quality. My new BlackBerry Bold crashed frequently, and the icons moved around without reason. Even battery life was dicey. The world was moving to a touch-screen culture, and Apple figured that if it offered enough bells and whistles on its iPhones, people would adjust to touch-screen typing. They were right.
Between 2009 and February 2013, BlackBerry’s market share plummeted from 47 percent to 2 percent. At one time, 25 out of 25 of our employees used BlackBerry. Eventually it was down to just me and a colleague who hates change as much as I do.
So, earlier this year, after going through three defective Blackberrys, I bid goodbye and set off to find a new phone. And what an odyssey it has been.
Because I have an iPad, the iPhone was easy and intuitive. I could download all of the apps and music from my iPad. The travel apps were a refreshing change, because many of them weren’t available on BlackBerry. Yet the iPhone has many negatives for the business user.
I decided to keep the iPhone and use it like my colleague suggested: “Treat the BlackBerry as the company car and the iPhone as the zippy little sports car you bring out on weekend.”
I can't type coherently on the iPhone. Sometimes I got replies from clients asking why I insulted them. When I complained to my friends, they suggested turning it sideways to allow for a bigger keyboard and use the dictation feature. But they all would end their suggestions with a shrug. “It is not easy to type on the iPhone.”
The dictation was spotty, as Suri did not understand my Southern accent or would silently blink, and I would have to start over again. As someone who sends 200 emails a day, I was continually frustrated that an email without typos took forever to compose.
I missed the sound of the clicking keys and had no idea how addicted I had become over the years to Blackberry’s blinking red light telling me that there was a message waiting.
Maybe worst of all, the iPhone has no spell-check to conduct after you type an email but before you send it. Sure, the iPhone suggests words as you type, and many times I had to fight with it to keep words as I spelled them before the iPhone took over and substituted its own words.
I decided to keep the iPhone on a cheap month-to-month contract, and use it like my colleague suggested: “Treat the BlackBerry as the company car and the iPhone as the zippy little sports car you bring out on weekend.”
But I still needed a business phone.
By the time I had relegated the iPhone to weekend use only, BlackBerry’s eagerly awaited Q10 hit the shelves. Unlike the Blackberry Z10, which was all touch screen, the Q10 was touted as everything we business people loved about the BlackBerry: its keyboard coupled with a new operating system that would compete with the iPhone.
BlackBerry was partially right. There is still a keyboard, but that's it. Everything else requires multiple swipes or pecks at the screen. Just to make a simple phone call took three swipes. I knew it wasn’t the phone for me when I missed phone calls because I forgot to swipe vertically rather than horizontally. Man, what a lemon. Back it went to the store after 10 long days.
I knew the Blackberry Z10 wasn’t the phone for me when I missed phone calls because I forgot to swipe vertically rather than horizontally.
Samsung Galaxy Note II
Many of my friends are huge fans of the Samsung Galaxy. I was attracted to the bigger screen of the Samsung Galaxy Note II in hopes of replacing both the BlackBerry and the iPad — a less complicated life for this frequent flier. Indeed, the Note II has a gorgeous screen with as many applications as the iPhone.
Like the iPhone, you can dictate emails as well as type, and the Samsung quickly recognizes your partially spelled words and offers choices. The Note II’s attached stylus makes it fun to write messages and either convert them to text or send as a PDF.
For the first week, I loved sending handwritten messages. Samsung also has an innovative option of typing by dragging your finger from one letter to another and I actually got rather fast at it.
But it quickly became apparent that I could not hold the large-size screen tablet and type easily. While the screen was larger and the keys clicked when I typed, it was still a touch screen, and I made too many mistakes. And like the iPhone, there is no spell check after the email is completed. I spent a weekend Googling “spell check for Galaxy” before somewhat sadly turning it in.
Revisiting the iPhone with an add-on keyboard
A colleague found me a wireless keyboard that attaches to the iPhone. It sounds great in principle, although my partner told me not to use it in front of clients because of its cheesy look — “like hitching a U-Haul to a Ferrari.” Even worse, it didn’t work. The keys were slightly off from a normal keyboard and were sticky.
As I made yet another visit to the AT&T store looking for something — anything — a salesman mentioned that the BlackBerry Bold, now with 4G, continued to have robust sales. I wondered why, because the model itself was three years old (but prior to 2011, models were the slower 3G). Apparently many business people share my desire for a phone where they can just type, make phone calls and take an occasional picture.
Within 30 seconds I was back with the Bold. What a relief to get back together with an old (but now faster) and hopefully more reliable friend. BlackBerry, I promise not to stray again, but damn it, you better not crash on me or move those icons around.
And you better promise to stay in business.