The Crackberry stranglehold on the Caribbean. Are there alternatives? Or is it the best choice?
I got bit by the PDA bug pretty early. But I’ve always made the mistake of trying to get on the best technical platform, instead of the most popular one. Yes, I said “mistake”, since my Psion Series 5Mx from 2001, my Palm Tungsten, and the Nokia E71 I currently own are all relics – victims of marketing’s domination over technology.
The smartphone was the natural progression from the PDA, and the Handspring Visor and Ericsson R380 started the evolution that led us eventually to the Palm Treo, Sony Clié, RIM BlackBerry, Nokia N97, and then the iPhone and Android.
As part of what is apparently self-loathing on my part, I shunned the BlackBerry for years, scoffing at its designation as a “Smartphone” back in the days when it didn’t come with default software for editing documents and spreadsheets, and cynically referring to BBs as glorified feature phones with email capability. I can now only view my love for good, feature-rich technology as self-loathing, as I’ve come to realise people just don’t give a rat’s derrière about all the amazing things you can do with technology – they just like fancy stuff!
Give it a great design, some nice colours, and make funny, compelling ads and you’ve got a winner!
So last year, I finally gave in and joined the CrackBerry zombie masses. “It’ll cut down on my phone bill”, “Most of the people I know are on BBM”, were some of the excuses I used to (painfully) justify the move. Now that I’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for over a year I’ve seen the good and bad of the platform.
To put it bluntly, the BlackBerry platform (device, features and data plans) may be the single largest deterrent to the success of smartphones in the Caribbean region.
First let me tell you my PERSONAL (please note emphasis) view on the pros and cons of the BlackBerry device.
- Unlimited data plans – you can browse from now ’til kingdom come once you’ve paid your monthly subscription (some unlimited plans cut down your speed when you reach the prescribed data cap, but they never stop browsing capability all-together)
- BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – still trying to figure out if this is really a pro or con. Yes you can talk forever (not free, you paid for it) with others on BBM, but I really don’t want to. And those damn broadcasts!!! But, at least it’s an instant form of communication (well, on some networks anyway, hehehehe)
- Push email/services – BlackBerry is no longer alone in this field as all the major platforms are now offering push services, but I still think they’re ahead by a nose since they’ve had years to make the feature seamless, and that it is!
- Messaging – BBM, instant messaging, emails are all integrated almost perfectly. As a messaging device, the BlackBerry just works!
- Archaic UX and UI – User Xperience is determined to a great extent by User Interface, and the BB sucks at both! Yes, it’s simple to use and actions/elements are intuitive (and these are some of the most important factors when dealing with UI/UX), but a quick fiddle with an iPhone or some of the better Android skins immediately shows up the weaknesses and shortcomings of the BlackBerry. Rendering in the browser, for example, while better under OS6, is quite frankly atrocious when compared to phones that give you a desktop look and feel for your web pages. The same argument holds true for editing documents – the BB rendering of Word® or Excel® files harks back to an era when we had to hunt our own food and watch out for dinosaurs.
- Slow – Slooooooooooow when it ready. Although at times it zips along, the fact that BBs are using some of the slowest processors out there means you can cook a meal and listen to a Yaadinfo Podcast before an app loads sometimes (yeah, yeah, they’ll argue that their OS doesn’t need faster processors, I use it, and will argue that they DO).
- Unstable – Can someone say “battery pull”? Removing and replacing a battery from an electronic device does what is called a “soft reset” – this is usually the second-to-last resort. The last resort? A “hard reset”, which completely wipes all data from the memory and returns the phone to original, factory state. I’m currently doing two or three battery-pulls a day! Can anyone tell me why the second-to-last resort for a device is something I have to be doing several times a day??? Or why it’s even a recommendation from customer support when you call the phone company about technical issues?
- Small screen (for most devices)
- Doesn’t play flash (animations, games)
- Multimedia (photos, videos, music) weak compared to the competition
“But how can BlackBerry be holding us back?”, you ask with a furrowed brow, “After all, users have a choice.”
Aaaaaah grasshopper, ConfuseUs saaay, “the illusion of choice is the greatest means to the oppression of consumers”
Local telecommunication providers actually carry very few options for smartphones when compared to telcos from the UK, Canada and the US, yet they seem to always have a wide range of BBs to choose from (credit to RIM for making their models readily available to regional mobile carriers). LIME only just started carrying the iPhone, four YEARS after it was first released. Of the DOZENS of Android phones on the market, only a handful (if that many) are on offer from LIME, DigiCel or DigiCel Jr. (uhhhh, I mean Claro). And you can forget about the new WindowsPhone7 devices or WebOS phones.
Then there are the data plans.
Not ONE mobile company offers an unlimited data plan outside of what is packaged with their BlackBerry service. And the packages on offer are a joke! 1 GB and 2 GB data caps?? In this day and age? Seriously? I can consume 1 GB of data in a matter of hours! Just ask my ADSL company (errrr, on second thoughts, please DON’T ask my ADSL company, forget I mentioned it). Do you see where I’m going here, though? Local carriers (assisted by RIM) make it extremely easy to get up and running on a BlackBerry plan – they even have the equivalent of US$3-weekly plans, I kid you not! (BBM, IM, Email, Twitter and Facebook, but no browsing) Meanwhile, the availability of phones from other platforms pales in comparison to the deluge of ‘berries that seem to be growing on trees. And those capped US$30 & $40 data plans (1 GB and 2 GB respectively) aren’t exactly enticing when compared to an unlimited messaging plan for 1/10 the cost.
I don’t even blame RIM – were I running the business I’d do the same if it meant that my products would lead the market and assure me of increasing revenues. The carriers, however, are doing their customers, shareholders and themselves a disservice by having such a high barrier to entry for users who may have different interests. And just like dope-fiends we keep coming back for more, in the futile hope that the next hit will deliver the euphoria we experienced the first time.