Bold Twittering: When is a SmartPhone Truly a Mobile Microcomputer?

If I ever had any doubt about the value of Twitter as a commercial social networking tool, it evaporated this weekend as a result of following some Tweets on the subject of smartphones that appeared this weekend. They certainly provide an independent perspective on issues that I’m sure others are wondering about:

Mark Evans acquired an iPod Touch back in August after deciding he did not need an iPhone; as a result of his recent employment status change, he is now debating the merits of having a smartphone – in particular, an iPhone


Luca Filigheddu has just gone through the process of evaluating the BlackBerry Bold and iPhone over the past few weeks. Yesterday he sent me a Twitter direct message to say that he had acquired a BlackBerry Bold; after he had had a few hours experience Saturday I see this on his Twitter feed:


And when I came home yesterday evening I see that my acquaintance Olivier Chaine has put up this Tweet (earlier yesterday I had suggested, in response to his request for smartphone Twitter client recommendations, that he look at Slandr.Net as a mobile platform Twitter client):


First I would suggest that the mini-computer industry died many years ago, to be replaced by the microcomputer era, especially server banks. Trust me, I spent a major part of my career relying on mini-computers. I think I would need a backpack to be mobile with a mini-computer.

So I’ll assume Mark is really looking to have a mobile microcomputer or PC experience on a smartphone. Having had several months’ experience with both an iPhone and a BlackBerry Bold, here are my criteria for a mobile microcomputer or, more aptly, a “Laptop for the Hip or Purse”:

  • Minimum 480 x 320 graphics display.
  • Full QWERTY keyboard.
  • Web browser capable of supporting PC-type browsing.
  • Supports “Cut & Paste” (of significant value more often than one would initially imagine until it’s not available)
  • View and edit MS Office documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) with potential to add document creation.
  • Supports video recording and MMS
  • Background processing (especially after experiencing both Truphone for BlackBerry and Truphone for iPhone)
  • Supports true Instant Messaging in background while running other applications
  • A very high speed processor (>500 MHz)
  • Runs applications such as, SlingPlayer Mobile and iSkoot (for voice and chat conversations with Skype contacts).
  • Bluetooth stereo audio support.
  • Removable battery
  • Equipped for memory upgrades through a removable memory card.
  • Supports both Both WiFi and 3G wireless protocols

A nice set of specifications but the key question here is: “How does it change the user experience?”. In particular does it eliminate the “urge” to turn on, or always carry, a laptop to keep up-to-date with real time activities?

blackberryboldtopangle250pxAs I have mentioned elsewhere, after a month’s experience with the BlackBerry Bold, I found I had lost that tugging “urge” to turn on my laptop for keeping current with real time (and often mission critical) information. This change did not just involve email and web browsing but also Instant Messaging, Twitter and attached document editing.. RIM would do well to position Bold as a “Laptop for the Hip or Purse”, bypassing all the technical comparisons and moving on to succinctly promoting Bold based on the actual user experience.

I like my iPhone for many of its personal information delivery features; it gives me a feel for what is appealing about the iPhone. I can find Toronto Transit streetcar times, do unit conversions, find the nearest Tim Horton’s or Starbucks; it has lots of great information delivery features. On the media side it’s definitely an extension of the iPod although it does not have the full audio performance of the Bold.

However, a mobile microcomputer the iPhone is NOT! I find myself turning to my Bold much more often than my iPhone for real two way interactivity. And just as important as the keyboard is the ability to track instant messaging sessions, whether on iSkoot (for Skype chat), Palringo or BlackBerry Messenger in background while carrying out other activities. On the subject of low cost international calling I find I can make much more use of Truphone for BlackBerry than Truphone for iPhone (that’s the subject of a future post).

I am encountering more and more acquaintances who have no use for a touch keyboard; certainly my typing error rate is much worse on the iPhone. For this reason alone I consider the iPhone to be a very good one-way information delivery device whereas BlackBerry is a true two-way communications device.

As for applications, suffice it to say that over the next six months, where feasible business savvy developers will publish applications running on both devices. For instance, The Hockey News has just released mobile applications for both the BlackBerry and iPhone. I mentioned Truphone above; Mobile Google apps are another example.

Keeping up with iTunes music via BlackBerry MediaSync is a trivial operation. Frankly from some video and audio streaming experiences I have had, BlackBerry Bold provides superior stereo audio performance even without earbuds or a headset.

Bottom line: when I leave my home office or hotel room with my Bold, I no longer have to take my laptop to keep current.

Yes, at the moment, the iPhone browser a superior user experience but rest assured RIM is not ignoring the issue.At this point the Bold’s browser issues have sometimes been frustrating but they not been an inhibition to my browsing activities in any major way – I still get the information I am seeking. The critical parameter here is the 480 pixel display width, which is sufficient to view most websites and weblogs without the need for horizontal scrolling via a ribbon bar. When RIM releases carrier-specific versions of their upgraded operating system – including browser enhancements, the Bold will live up to its full potential as “A Laptop for the Hip or Purse”.

(As for pricing on Rogers, both the Bold and iPhone are C$199 with a three year contract.)

In future posts I’ll cover in more detail some of the issues mentioned above, including my Truphone evaluation on each device, some very interesting real time video and audio experiences, the range of third party applications available on each device and why both background processing and WiFi is becoming critical to any smartphone.

And, Mark, if you’re looking for a mobile microcomputer, I would suggest serious consideration of the BlackBerry Bold.

In closing, can we expect Skype to include BlackBerry as one of their supported platforms for Skype for Mobile? Or will iSkoot improve on their user interface to take advantage of some new BlackBerry developer tools? (Most Skype executives I meet are sporting a BlackBerry – it’s supported by eBay IT.)

Update: Luca published a post this afternoon, A Bold New Experience, and asks about his Tweet above: “Why Did I Say That?”

1) Always on Experience: the BB is offering me a realtime always-on experience never found in any device I used before
2) Multitasking – It lets you receive IMs while writing an email or making a phone call, for example
3) Stunning display
4) Wide availability of apps
5) Crazy speed
6) Great usability

Update #2: (Dec. 23) ZDNet names BlackBerry Bold as #1 most influential biztech product of 2008; iPhone is #3.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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