What You Should Know Before you Switch from BlackBerry to iPhone

Last weekend, I was one of the 1 million who was crazy enough to wait on a 3 hour line to buy an iPhone 3G. Until last Thursday, I was quite content to be a BlackBerry user for the foreseeable future. I really liked my BlackBerry 8800. A lot.

So why the switch? Let’s face it…the iPhone 3G is a mighty fine web working smartphone.

As fantastic as the BlackBerry is for letting you connect to your office while you’re on the go, you have to have that office to connect to in the first place. I have a home office so I can telecommute to my Virginia-based job from New Jersey, but lately due to family demands I’ve been out of that office more than I’ve been in it. Next month I’m moving to a different part of New Jersey. The app store convinced me that I can lead a crazy web working life and still get done what needs to get done for my employers without keeping my laptop and its associated gear with me all the time.

Thinking about joining me in switching fruits from berry to apple? Here’s a quick look at what’s to love (and not-so-love) about being a new iPhone owner from the point of view of someone very used to the BlackBerry experience.

Note: this is based on features in BlackBerry OS 4.2. Some of the differences between the iPhone and BlackBerry may change as a new drastically updated BlackBerry OS is so close to shipping.

Reasons to love the iPhone (aside from the obviously superior browser and the whole iPod thing…that’s too easy):

SMS chat is more functional. On the BlackBerry, by default, SMS messages are mixed in with email messages. This makes it difficult to have a threaded conversation on the go. You can separate SMS from email, but it’s still an awkward interface because you can’t see the text message you’re replying to as you’re typing. Fine for sending one-off messages but more challenging for back-and-forth communications. On the iPhone, you can see the entire conversation on the same screen as you’re exchanging messages.

You can’t appreciate how helpful this is until you have your first SMS chat session with a colleague (or, in my case, my iPhone-carrying husband who was on a loud train) and the IM-like exchange allows for conversation, not just messages.

If this appeals to you, don’t forget to add AT&T’s unlimited text plan. It adds up quickly.

Update: After skimming through the many comments, I have to clarify what I was talking about here. Yes, I know that when you reply to a text message on the Blackberry you see all the previous messages from that contact. But, often on my BlackBerry I would be in the middle of replying to a text when another text from the same person came in. In order to see if the new message answered my question, I would have to go back to the message view, read the new message and then decide whether or not to go back to the draft I had started and continue it. On the iPhone, if you are in the middle of composing a reply and a new text comes in you see the view update, as it would in an IM conversation, without having to leave the screen to see new messages. Therefore, I find the BlackBerry just fine for quick text messages, but the iPhone is more conversational in that respect.

Audio options available for quick switches mid-call. This used to drive me crazy on the BlackBerry. I can’t count how many times I’d forget to either turn off my Bluetooth headset when it wasn’t on my ear or break the connection between the BlackBerry and the headset on the phone. A new call would come in, I’d answer it and realize that the audio was coming out of my headset which I then had to run for either in my purse or sitting near its charger because it took too long to tell the BlackBerry to send the sound through the device and not the headset.

On the iPhone, if you forget to break the pairing between the phone and the headset, you always have easy access to change the audio source. A simple click of a very visible button and the call audio can easily be rerouted.

Multiple calendar support. Right now, my Google account has 4 different calendars that I rely on. There’s a calendar for each of my 2 web working jobs, my personal only-I-care calendar and the calendar I share with my family. Even though Google has a wonderful utility for syncing multiple Google calendars with the single BlackBerry calendar, with a lot of events that interface bogs down quickly. The iPhone supports multiple calendars beautifully. True, the absence of a “week” view is troubling. The calendar also lacks support for event invites.

Bonus tip for Mac users: Check out Spanning Sync to sync Google calendars with iCal calendars. From there it’s an easy sync to the iPhone.

Multiple home pages. Sure, BlackBerry has extensive theme support so you can change colors, icons, fonts and background images. The more icons you added to your BlackBerry home screen, the more you had to scroll, making it difficult to find exactly the application you want to launch.

I love the way the iPhone handles multiple home page views. Hold down on an icon until they get all wiggly, then drag & drop to organize. My first page is shown in the screen shot (which is also easier to generate on an iPhone 3G…just click both the home and power buttons at the same time).

This is my “productivity” view. I flip to this page when I’m thinking “strictly business” (okay, the camera is debatable). A quick flick and I’m looking at reference apps. Another flick and I’m looking at my social networking apps.

I also like the way you can delete a non-standard application directly from the wiggly edit view.

Maybe the switch wasn’t such a bright idea after all (aside from the obviously superior keyboard…that’s too easy):

Email. Email. Email. This is RIM’s bread & BlackBerry jam, and with good reason. If the main reason you have a BlackBerry is to check your email across multiple accounts (let’s say work & personal), don’t even think about switching. You will be disappointed. Apple fans will talk about Push and Exchange support. They may even talk about MobileMe as an acceptable substitute. Don’t listen to them. Email on the iPhone is something you only appreciate now and then, otherwise it’s something you tolerate.

Where to begin? For starters, iPhone applications launch at the same point you left them. Helpful if you’re reading a book. Not-so-helpful if you’ve finished reading a message in one account and now want to read unread mail in another account. You are constantly navigating back and forth to get back to the page that lists your email accounts.

There is no way to set multiple signatures. There is no way to select multiple unread messages and mark them read at the same time. I so miss the BlackBerry “Mark Prior Read” menu item. The contact application is painfully slow to the point of agony.

Typing luxury beyond the keyboard. Even with the tactile feedback of a hardware keyboard, the BlackBerry offers many features that make typing long text easier. On the iPhone, you can double tap the space bar to insert a period and capitalize the next letter, but it stops there. Long time BlackBerry users know you can also hold down on a letter to capitalize it and configure multiple dictionaries and shortcuts (so if you type a word or phrase often you can enter it into the dictionary to autocomplete). Someone please come up with a way to port TextExpander to the iPhone and you can name your price. I’ll gladly pay. Double.

Dialing shortcuts. I had a dialing shortcut for nearly every letter of the alphabet. Holding down “O” dialed my office in Virginia, I pushed “C” for my co-worker Carlea’s cell phone, “M” for my mother and so on. The iPhone lets you save numbers in the Phone’s “favorites.” Nowhere near the same thing. The iPhone is clearly a 2-handed device. I got pretty good at getting around my BlackBerry with one hand…don’t see that happening any time soon on the iPhone.

I will give the iPhone bonus points for including letters on the virtual keypad, so no more guessing which number you push for dial-by-name directories.

And while we’re talking about the phone application, how silly is it that you can’t listen to voicemail through a Bluetooth headset on the iPhone? Nevermind. Must have been a temporary audio glitch…I’ve had a few of those.

Magnetized sleep. After 1 minute (configurable) of inactivity, the iPhone screen locks down. The screen goes black and you have to do a deliberate slide to get the screen to respond. This also saves some precious battery power. You can also hit the button at the top of the device to instantly go this mode. You have to remember to hit this button or wait until the iPhone goes to sleep on its own before putting the iPhone in your purse or pocket. While it only responds to finger touch, I’ve found that I can press the wrong buttons in the act of putting it in my purse if I didn’t remember to sleep it first.

The BlackBerry has a magnet so with certain cases, including the one that comes with the device, merely the act of putting the BlackBerry away puts it to sleep. I liked that.

Superior battery management. Okay, this is probably unfair because I’m comparing a 3G device to a 2G (EDGE) device. We’ll see just how much longer a BlackBerry lasts when the 3G Bold is released later this summer. But regardless, the BlackBerry will always have better battery management simply because said battery can be removed. Afraid of losing juice? Just carry an extra battery. There are also tons of cheap 3rd party chargers available for the more standard mini-USB plug on the BlackBerry. As soon as an accessory is marked for the iPhone, especially the latest model, there’s a steeper price tag.

Are you also a BlackBerry Switcher? Any other tips & tricks to make the transition easier?


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