Apple's BlackBerry offensive contains some untruths

Steve Jobs has engaged in hype, says Tom Yager

Apple's market power derives not merely from its technology, but from its adeptness at reframing a familiar market to limit the field of competitors. In the most extreme example, Apple portrays its sole competitor as itself. The competitive messaging around MacBook Pro emphasised how it skunked PowerPC notebooks in performance. Later, Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro was sold as far superior to Core Duo MacBook Pro. Apple is 2X faster than Apple, so clearly, the smart money's on Apple. At the press conference at which iPhone's Exchange Server connectivity and software development kit (SDK) were unveiled, Steve Jobs established and reinforced the premise that in eight months, iPhone has redefined the entire smartphone market. Windows Mobile and Symbian Series 60 are now irrelevant, leaving only two relevant players, iPhone and BlackBerry. Given that BlackBerry is old, tacky and unreliable, enterprises oughtn't waste time trying to prop it up. Out with the old, in with the new, he implied. This mirrors the swipes that Apple used to take at Microsoft. They're always delivered with the Jobsian wink and smirk, but they are far from the offhand remarks they're packaged to be. They're very carefully targeted. In BlackBerry's case, Jobs took the opportunity to reveal some little-known information about BlackBerry — widely published, just not the kind of details that BlackBerry users care about — and portray it as a powerful disadvantage that makes the fresh technology that iPhone brings to the market a necessity. I grant that iPhone outshines BlackBerry as a platform for graphical mobile applications, with the drawback being that writing iPhone software for your personal use will cost you US$99 (NZ$122). In contrast, BlackBerry, Nokia, and Microsoft impose no charges. I think that Apple could have made more hay by showing a text-based custom BlackBerry app next to the same application done in Technicolour and full motion on iPhone. Instead, Apple focused its battle with BlackBerry on two simple points: BlackBerry handsets are ugly, and BlackBerry's network is old fashioned, insecure and unreliable. I'll grant you, my BlackBerry 8820 is industrial in its styling. That was my choice. BlackBerry handsets are now in all sizes and colours, with the bonus that every model has matching messaging functionality. Consumers and fashion-conscious professionals have swarmed to Curve, BlackBerry's jazzy QWERTY handset, and more compact phone-like devices that have the same standard BlackBerry messaging capabilities. No BlackBerry's screen is as large as iPhone's, but iPhone's visible display space is cut considerably when the huge on-screen keyboard slides in. A BlackBerry squeezes more text onto its smaller screen, and both fonts and font sizes are adjustable to match your vision. Every BlackBerry is operable with one hand, or if you use the in-handset voice dialing, no hands. Built-in GPS is there if you want it, with Google Maps and BlackBerry's own excellent mapping software showing you where you are and where you're going. Upgrade to the inexpensive and platform-defining TeleNav, and you'll find out why I can't leave home without its turn by turn directions called out by street name. My BlackBerry 8820's battery lasts forever compared to iPhone's. BlackBerry comes with a holster. BlackBerry handsets are available from all major US carriers, and they're subsidised. Even AT&T will amortise the cost of your BlackBerry device in return for a two year contract commitment. With iPhone, your two year contract commitment gets you list price, and you can shop around and pick any operator you like as long as it's AT&T. Apple's favourite way to pin the grey beard on the BlackBerry is to point out that it uses indirect delivery. All messages, regardless of their origin or destination, are routed through BlackBerry's proprietary network. Every message makes a stop at Research In Motion's network operations centre in Canada (Jobs: "It's not even in this country!") before being sent to a handset or mail server. In contrast, Apple and AT&T give you a direct TCP/IP connection between an employee's iPhone and your company's Exchange Server. Jobs wonders why BlackBerry users aren't concerned about security, given that all messages are gathered on a central group of servers, a single point of failure, where unencrypted messages sit naked and vulnerable to anyone roaming around the BlackBerry NOC. Can Americans really trust those nosy Canadians with our sensitive email? It's funny that Apple, fronting for AT&T, points to the privacy risks of shuttling communications across the border. Aren't there some hearings on Capitol Hill about warrantless something or other, and pleas for legal protection of telecommunications companies that too eagerly spilled the beans on subscribers? Security begins at home, eh?

The bulk of the email traffic coursing around the internet right now is in plain text. What Apple sells as a direct connection from iPhone to Exchange Server is anything but direct. It hopscotches through router after router. When you send a message from your iPhone, the path it follows takes it through AT&T's bandwidth-limited EDGE network, through countless intermediate routers, to your ISP's router to Exchange Server. If a message makes it through that gauntlet before a TCP timeout, it's home free. There are literally thousands of places where it can go wrong, not least of which is within your walls. You might have heard or said "Exchange is down" a time or two in your career. No iPhone in your enterprise can talk to any other iPhone unless your Exchange Server is up. There is a method to BlackBerry's old-fashioned way. BlackBerry's network, which is a cooperative fabric woven by wireless operators in concert with Research In Motion, is geared for guaranteed delivery, so the burden for this is shifted from you. A message from a BlackBerry, or a competing handset equipped with BlackBerry Connect (free to any manufacturer who wants it) only needs to make it to your wireless operator. Equipment placed there by RIM routes the message straight to the BlackBerry NOC without queuing up behind browsers and music downloads. If a BlackBerry message can't make it to Exchange, it hovers in the NOC until Exchange is ready to grab it. If a message bound for a handset doesn't go through because an EDGE connection can't be made for whatever reason, BlackBerry's NOC waits for a presence notification from an operator. The instant that the NOC has a clear shot at your handset, however fleeting the trees and tunnels make it, RIM makes the most of it. There are some facts stated by Steve Jobs that were flat wrong. He said that to use BlackBerry, an organisation needs to have Exchange Server and BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). An organisation can use BES with either Exchange or Notes. There are numerous providers that sell well-managed, off-site hosting of BES/Exchange. Unlike your iPhone, your BlackBerry can get true push email from OS X Server. Configure the Postfix mail server to copy all inbound messages destined for a given user to that user's BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) email address. Every BlackBerry user gets one, and an email message delivered to a BIS address hits the handset immediately, with no polling delay. Not that I have anything against Microsoft, but I'm not going trade my gorgeous eight-core Xserve for a Windows Server 2003 box just so I can get push email on an iPhone. Read winks and elbow jabs in here as you choose. I'm not ragging on iPhone. I'm looking forward to iPhone becoming the alternative to BlackBerry that Jobs envisions. But even from the lips of Steve Jobs, saying doesn't make it so.

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Tags technologyBlackberryApple

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