There will be much talk in San Francisco this week about all matter of iPhones, iPods, and slightly irritating commercials starring that guy from Dodgeball. Yes, the annual MacWorld conference is once again underway and Steve Jobs is sure to introduce yet another touch screen innovation that you cannot possibly live without. He might even get a question or two from a group of people anxious to hop on the Mac train: government workers who are ready to jettison their trusty BlackBerries for shiny new Apples...iPhones that is.
For the past few years Blackberries have been as ubiquitous on Capitol Hill as wide eyed interns and overheated softball rivalries. In the wake of 9/11, all members of Congress (and senior staff) were provided with BlackBerries as a means to streamline communication during an emergency. In late 2001, Congress signed off on an in-house BlackBerry Enterprise Server to centralize communications, both emergency and otherwise. According to The Hill newspaper, there are currently 8,200 Congressional BlackBerries in use.
Of course, when dealing with telecommunications, very few gadgets stay cutting edge for long. This brings us to the iPhone. Since its debut in 2007, the iPhone has become the most wildly popular technological innovation since, well, the iPod. It was only a matter of time before Congress fell out of love with their BlackBerries and head-over-heels with the iPhone. The Congressional Chief Administrative Office is currently considering offering an iPhone alternative to Congressional offices that would be interested. OhMyGov! chronicled the proposed switch from BlackBerry to iPhone this past October.
As the popularity of the iPhone shows no signs of slowing down (Apple is now already on the third generation of the phone), and the BlackBerry Storm's emergence as a legitimate touch screen competitor, the question then comes down to the very simple quandary: Which one is better? Since this is ostensibly a government-oriented news site, let's try and ignore pressing issues such as MP3 capacity and YouTube performance, and focus instead on which phone is better suited for workplace use.
According to BlackBerry's website, the Storm operates the Research In Motion (RIM) wireless modem network (which is already in place on Capital Hill), and is compatible with all Microsoft and PC-based email systems, such as Outlook. The iPhone is also compatible with all the well known office software, and Apple's website goes as far as to claim the 3G is "The best phone for business. Ever."
So the question then becomes, what are the major differences? First would be the presence of Mac OSX on the iPhone, which can possibly scare off a few BlackBerry users unfamiliar with the operating system, although given the iPhone's ease of use, anyone who can read pictures can understand how it works. Once you get past the simple conversion from Windows to Mac OSX, the concern then turns to just how much more useful is one device as opposed to the other when it comes to everyday government work use?
More pressing than learning the subtle nuances of creating iTunes playlists is the issue practicality. On the surface, both phones are touch screens with full internet access, GPS, digital cameras, and other assorted goodies. When it comes to e-mail the Storm supports Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, and Novell GroupWise. According to CNET, Users can access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts via the BlackBerry Internet Service. CNET describes syncing up the iPhone to Microsoft Exchange as being "ridiculously easy", so neither phone will give you too much grief in checking those early morning Outlook e-mails. CNET does make note of one Achilles Heel in the iPhone's e-mail capabilities, the phone can support multiple POP3 accounts simultaneously (such as two Yahoo or G-Mail accounts) it syncs with only one Microsoft Exchange server therefore only giving a user access to features such as calendars or address books on that server. According to CNET the bottom line on e-mail is that the iPhone, while impressive, "can't measure up to the BlackBerry just yet."
When it comes to web-browsing, both the iPhone and the Storm offer full screen access, however access from the two phones varies. BlackBerry devices run on Verizon wireless network, while iPhones (of course) use the AT&T network. On average, according to CNET, the iPhone experienced more rapid and reliable internet service. When dealing with the iPhone 3G CNET claims testing network coverage in your area as being "absolutely essential," this same note is not made when it comes to the Storm's Verizon based coverage. Basically what it comes down to is that the iPhone offers a superior web browsing experience, always helpful when needing to Google the latest governmental gossip and conjecture, but only if you live in a strong area of AT&T coverage.
While the BlackBerry might be the more business-ready device, the iPhone appears to be the machine with more upside potential. The iPhone gives users access to Mac's App Store on iTunes. A quick browse of the App Store shows users that they can download thousands of third party produced applications for low prices; most programs are only 99 cents. Everything from spreadsheet programs, to currency converters, to recording software, to the wildly popular iFart Mobile is available at the tap of an index finger. The BlackBerry Storm comes bundled with the standard Microsoft Office software and other assorted bells and whistles, built-in Bluetooth being the most talked about feature, but it doesn't offer users access to the seemingly endless menu of applications that the iPhone does with the App Store.
It comes down to a question of accessibility and usefulness. The iPhone appears to be the device that can be potentially indispensable, while a pessimistic view of the Storm might be that of it being a latter day Palm Pilot. It is the iPhone and not the Storm however that runs into the pressing question of accessibility. It might be the more useful and slick device, but it is simply only available on that former monopoly of a phone provider known as AT&T. Buying an iPhone might mean endorsing the "progressive" corporate ethos of Apple, but it also means having to sign a two year contract with a corporation that was once the poster child for federal anti-trust violations. In this day and age even buying a cell phone must turn into a moral dilemma.
All things being equal, and of course they never are, one must ask the question of how much do government workers really need iPhones, as much as how much do they want them? With the software capabilities of both devices being ostensibly similar and the cost of switching over nothing to sniff at it might be wise to hold off on the upgrade. At a time when most taxpayers are worrying about paying the mortgage the image of members of Congress downloading iFart might be a hard one to swallow. Everyone loves a new toy, but the timing for undertaking the cellular revolution probably isn't right. Then again, iTunes is pretty addictive...