Over the course of the past five months, I’ve had the opportunity to review several smartphones aimed to appeal to business users, at least to some extent.
A couple of those, including a Nokia Lumia that was sent to me to show off Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana, were sufficiently pathetic that I sent them back to their makers. I didn’t see any point in wasting your time with an article about a phone that had no clear reason to exist.
But two of the devices I’ve looked at clearly were intended to be more than just consumer electronics. One of those was the BlackBerry Z30 that I reviewed in June, and the other is the Apple iPhone 6, which I reviewed in October. Both these phones are well-suited for business users, but obviously the iPhone ends up in far more hands than does the BlackBerry—if only because its overall sales are far greater.
While working with these devices, I ended up using the BlackBerry Z30 for a few months. I grew to appreciate some of the innovative features that BlackBerry designed into the phone, a few of which made my life far easier than mobile phones usually do.
Then came time to review the iPhone 6, so I put away the Z30 and started using the Apple device for daily use. There are a number of reasons the iPhone 6 is an improvement over the earlier models, not the least of which was a screen that’s large enough to use without the constant stream of errors that earlier iPhones brought about.
But the change from the BlackBerry handset to the iPhone was not without its adjustments. In fact, in a few areas, the BlackBerry beats the iPhone in a big way.
Of course, for most things, both phones are just phones, but it’s those differences in usability that can go a long way in determining overall satisfaction. But as I look at the BlackBerry Z30 resting on my desk next to the Apple iPhone 6, there are some features I wish I could magically transfer from the Z30 to the iPhone.
- Multitasking: When I tap on the link to a Website in an email message on the iPhone 6 (which is running iOS 8.1 as of now), the email application closes and is replaced by the Web page. When I want to go back to my email, I have to close Safari and start the email app. Each time I want to move between them, it’s open and close all over again. When I wanted to do the same thing with the Z30, I could simply minimize the email message and open the browser, but then I could leave the browser open and move back and forth by simply tapping on the minimized image of each. The Z30 could run eight such sessions at the same time with all of them remaining fully operational. It’s worth noting that both the iPhone and the BlackBerry use similar OS kernels based on Unix, so it seems likely that iOS could multitask if Apple wanted to do it.
Five Things Apple Could Learn From BlackBerry About Phone Design
- A Unified Inbox: While Apple consolidates all of my email into a single inbox so I can look at all of those messages at the same time, when the time comes to read text messages or social networking, then I have to switch to a different app in a different window. BlackBerry Hub solved all of this by consolidating everything into a single inbox, or you can select them by type easily and quickly. This means that I can see all of my incoming messaging in a single glance, which is vastly more efficient than having to move between them as I do with iOS.
- A Keyboard that Learns: Actually, the iOS keyboard used to learn how I typed fairly quickly, but apparently that capability has been lost with iOS 8.1. A good example of this is how I usually sign my email messages, which is with my initials, “WR” at the bottom. Now the predictive text in the iOS 8.1 keyboard has never learned that when I type “Wr” or “wr” the letters should be capitalized. The keyboard on the BlackBerry Z30 not only had predictive text that was easy and fast to use, but it learned quickly. Autocorrect in earlier versions of iOS also learned that, but it no longer works and that slows down my email writing.
- BlackBerry Balance: Perhaps one of the most significant features that BlackBerry has developed is BlackBerry Balance, which essentially lets you divide your device into two personalities, one for personal use and the other for work. The two sides are separate from each other, and data from one cannot make its way to the other. This means that users can’t make insecure copies of sensitive information and it means that the IT manager can wipe company data without affecting personal data. While there are third-party secure containers available for iOS, they also require third-party mobile management systems, something that may be out of reach for some companies, especially small ones.
- Adaptive Antenna Systems: The antennas in the Z30 are things of wonder. They could draw in cell signals and WiFi in areas where other phones could never find a signal at all. Dropped calls became a thing of the past. While the MIMO (multiple in multiple out) antenna system on the iPhone 6 improves its WiFi performance, especially when working with 802.11ac access points, those haven’t helped cellular performance. And I just hate dropped calls when I know they’re not necessary.
I could go on, but in some areas, such as battery life, one has to realize the limitations of the laws of physics. The iPhone would have better battery life with a bigger battery, for example, but then it would be larger and heavier. You can’t have it both ways.
But still, there are things that Apple could do to make the iPhone more useful and more efficient. Perhaps they are constrained by patents or by design philosophy, but from my viewpoint as a wireless phone user, I wish it could be the best of both worlds. Maybe this is the best reason of all why Apple should use some of its billions and buy BlackBerry.