iPhone, Android and BlackBerry Strengths

A little background: I spent the last few months with a Droid 2, just switched back to a BlackBerry and I expect to have an iPhone again pretty soon (currently sporting an iPod touch).1 My experiences across each of the platforms has shown me the strengths of each. Or put another way, it’s made it nearly impossible for me to be satisfied with any of the current options.

Platform Strengths

The iPhone, Android and BlackBerry each have a distinct set of strengths.

The iPhone oozes polish. It’s apparent in the hardware, the OS and the apps. It has a fantastic camera. It is, as a friend says, a very good pants computer. The camera and music capabilities of the iPhone are obvious strengths, but the gap between the iPhone and everything else in these areas is staggering. Every other manufacturer is chasing Apple and making their phones more and more iPhone-like. I hope you like what Apple is doing, because they are leaving a trail of followers in their wake.

Android is a great choice if you like free apps (or a backwards “trial” system that lets you buy, try, then refund). It has tight integration with Google’s services, a carrier-supported mobile hot spot feature, and a variety of hardware options. It also has very good background processing; I like getting to my car and finding that my podcasts already been downloaded and are ready for me. The ability to display the weather and daily agenda on the home screen via widgets is very useful as well.

The traditional BlackBerry is the best of the three platforms for communication activities. Once you learn to properly utilize the hardware keys and shortcuts, it is way faster to navigate and use for these activities than an Android device or an iPhone (even though the latter two have far more powerful hardware). It also has good background processing with weather and other data apps that update themselves. And the profile settings for notifications combined with the magnet in the holster are something I miss while on other platforms.

Platform Outlook

The interesting thing to me is how each of these platforms is trending. The iPhone is continuing to blaze the trail. It is by far the best touch-screen device (iOS having been designed for the form factor from the ground up) and it’s continuing to incrementally improve.

Android is becoming Windows to Apple’s Mac. The hardware is more and more iPhone-like. The manufacturers and carriers are adding iPhone style UI touches on top of the base Android OS. But while it’s a very functional OS, it lacks a personality. There is an entirely different feeling using an Android device vs. an iOS device. It feels cobbled together.

The BlackBerry is the biggest mess of all. The traditional strengths of the BlackBerry platform are: a great keyboard, efficiencies for power users via hardware key shortcuts, apps with spartan interfaces that are built for speed. These things are being largely abandoned in favor of chasing after the touchscreen revolution. Their current devices are underpowered for the type of apps you see on the iPhone or Android and the developer tools don’t make it easy to create elegant apps. The hardware design favors big screens over the utility of the always there keyboard, but the apps are weak and the software platform generally isn’t ready for this type of hardware. The things that made BlackBerry different (and in many ways, better) are dropping out of the platform as it tries to play “me too” with the iPhone and Android.

The only way to create a great product is to say “this is our vision” and build around it with consistency and conviction. Why is Apple the only one doing this?2

  1. Might go back to the Droid in a bit here. [back]
  2. Palm was probably the runner-up in this position with a strong webOS user experience and set of platform tools. Unfortunately the hardware was abysmal. [back]