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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Technology: BlackBerry crumble?

The BlackBerry is a remarkable line of products. Its maker RIM managed to completely corner the market in business phones, but now it faces a huge challenge from other, smarter smartphones.

Before the days of the iPhone and Android, the reason why people bought BlackBerries was that they worked with corporate emails and did it seamlessly. Before that, connecting your users’ phones to the corporate network was a nightmare, but RIM made it easy. As with most cases of market dominance, though, it led to complacency and an unwillingness to innovate.

When the iPhone came out in 2007 it wasn’t a business phone. It looked great, and was even easier to use than BlackBerries, but didn’t have the chops to be used seriously for work. Apple steadily worked to make it better, and now the iPhone makes real sense as a business handset.

The impressive and still improving iOS operating system is much easier to use than that on recent BlackBerry models. Email support on iOS is much better, there’s support for networked printers and the growing number of business-friendly, useful apps is a marker of how seriously the phone is being taken.

BlackBerry, on the other hand, is lagging behind. Making apps for the BlackBerry is a real hassle compared to the iPhone, and the interface is starting to look dated.

There are still a couple of things that the BlackBerry does better: for one,
BlackBerry Messenger — BBM — provides a truly secure instant messaging service between employees, something no other phone system does. Apple is nipping at RIM’s heels here too, though: the next version of the iPhone, due in September 2011, is expected to include just this feature.

The iPhone does very well when it comes to integrating with Microsoft’s Exchange, the email server used by most companies. But if your firm is already set up to use BlackBerry Push email, moving to using Exchange on its own will be quite a change.

More and more companies are allowing employees to connect their own devices to corporate networks, and the iPhone can easily be networked up to your firm’s Exchange server. Its email support is pretty good these days, although there is one thing to bear in mind: connecting a personal iPhone to the corporate network will usually give your company’s IT department a degree of control over your phone. That includes the ability to remotely wipe the handset of absolutely everything. It makes sense — if your phone is lost or stolen it’s important for the company to safeguard its data — but be aware of that before you connect.

Android handsets are good for business users, though their Exchange support is much more limited than Apple’s. Also, Apple does considerably more vetting on iPhone apps than Google does on Android apps, so companies will be much more reticent about allowing them to connect to the network.

So what’s the best choice? Well, assuming you have a choice — assuming your company allows connection of your own device to the network — the iPhone has to be the leader at the moment.

Android devices just aren’t secure enough, and although security is one of BlackBerry’s strengths, the iPhone has caught up in that area. The addition of secure instant messaging later this year will remove the last real thing that BlackBerry does better.

Then it comes down to user experience — the iPhone wins hands-down. Unless you’re wedded to the look and feel of your BlackBerry, it might be time now to make the switch.