They can have my Blackberry when they pry it out of my cold dead hands! – Charlton Heston (mostly).
Is my bias clear?
Don’t get me wrong. Apple makes a very good phone and the Google Android system, when coupled with companies like Sony and Samsung, is an excellent product.
Being able to play a game, take funky photos or watch cute kitten videos is fine. I freely admit I love my Apple iPod touch and have enjoyed playing with my freebie Android phone. Apple will dominate the app market and with all its different manufacturers. Android will always have the best, newest hardware. The hardware, app frenzy, stoked by the marketing geniuses at Apple, has dominated smartphone reviews for the last three or four years.
It is both amazing and exciting to see how much raw power can be jammed into these little boxes. However, for me, a phone is primarily a communication tool.
Apps, Hardware are NOT the point, usability is
In my view, RIM, intentionally or not, has taken a different path from the ‘app store’ story. Their greatest strength is they’ve spent over 10 years innovating, refining and renovating the various communication tools inside the handsets they make.
I spend 90% of my mobile time doing one of five activities (sometimes more than one):
• reading e-mail
• writing e-mail
• sending text messages: SMS, BBM, MSN etc
• making phone calls
• reviewing Tweets from Twitter
Perhaps I’d better explain the last one. I find Twitter to be an amazing tool for catching up on headlines and additional information. It summarizes a lot of breaking news and usually provides links if you need more details.
I seldom use it to post what kind of socks I just put on, ponderings over which Transformer I am most like, or my favourite Sheen quote.
Okay, if you MUST know it is: “Why give an interview when you can leave a warning?” from www.livethesheendream.com.
But, I digress.
The native Blackberry Twitter app is phenomenal and much easier to use than the one for Android or Apple.
Interestingly for some, I don’t really use my cell phone for making calls very much and I almost never TAKE phone calls. I don’t like the leashed feeling. I’m simply not one to talk on the phone very much.
Also, I worry about those darn radio microwaves.
Getting the most juice out of your Blackberry
There are now in excess of 10,000 apps on Blackberry App World. This is dwarfed by what you can find for Apple or Android but its still about 9,994 apps MORE than you need to turn your Blackberry into the ultimate communication device.
However, before we talk about apps to add to your device, we should first make sure you getting maximum usage from your phone as it is now. If you have spent the money on getting a Blackberry then you may as well take advantage of all the refined features that RIM has invested in the phone. Most of this communication goodness is packaged up in the native operating system and is accessed in the form of Keyboard Shortcuts.
I am surprised at how few Blackberry owners know about keyboard shortcuts. Not using them is like owning a sports car and never going on a highway. Moreover, quite a few Blackberry users are corporate users. This usually means they are not allowed to download apps onto their phones. The shortcuts allow you to get many of the usual benefits of apps without having to download anything or make the network nerds fret about security.
Blackberry keyboard shortcuts
Wait until you try this! In fact, no, don’t wait. Pull out your Blackberry now and follow along with me as we go through this. If you don’t make some amazed and probably embarrassing noise as you do this, then you probably have fallen victim to some form of iPhone brainwashing and you are past redemption.
Open your email screen, then push the following keys:
• “T” jumps you to the top of a screen
• “B” goes to the bottom of the screens
• “spacebar” to scroll down a screen
• “N” to go the next day’s emails
• “P” previous day
• “J” to see threaded discussion-ie. You can see the chain of emails as you and others replied back and forth
• “R” to reply to this email, either on the main email screen or in the email itself
• “F” to forward emails
• “L” to reply-to-all
• “C” to compose new emails
A lot of these also work in the Facebook or Twitter or other third party apps.
Once you are composing an email or text or document or note, here are some great composition shortcuts you may not be aware of:
• Holding down the letter caps it.
• When typing an email address, the first time you hit the space bar it inserts an “@” and the second time you hit the spacebar it inserts a “.” which makes typing an email address very quick and easy
• Hitting the “spacebar” twice puts in a period, then a space and then caps the next letter
• “Alt+Right Shift” turns CAPS on
• “Alt+Left Shift” turns the Number Pad on
You should also consider editing your own list of AutoText functions under SetUp> AutoText for phrases you use a lot. Some handy pre-added ones are:
• Typing “i” automatically becomes “I”
• “wel” becomes “we’ll” “iv” becomes ”I’ve” “hel” becomes “he’ll” etc
Then, you can add any more you want. In my phone, “okb” becomes “Ok, buddy, see you soon” to use with texts to my teenage son.
• On Dial Screen, use ‘Alt” to dial letters eg: 800-GET-RICH dials as: 18004387472 or if you have to dial a person’s last name on a voicemail system
• Assign quick keys to people you call all the time. “H” for home etc
• Pressing and holding 1 gets you to your voicemail
• “I” to zoom in browser, “O” to zoom out
• “k” for bookmarks
• “g” for the address bar
• Use Menu > Reading View to isolate and enlarge the main column of a website in your browser view
• The “T,B, spacebar” shortcuts previously mentioned all work on the browser as well.
• Hold the volume button on the side to jump to the next or previous song
The Complete Guide to Kevin’s Blackberry Universe
In addition to the shortcuts, AutoText above, here is a list what I do on my three year old Blackberry Bold 9000:
• Dictate text messages, notes, email, searches- see Vlingo below
• Read PDF reports, novels-see Repligo
• Keep up to date, sort and review Twitter news tweets
• Update/save/send backed-up Office documents from server
• Review PowerPoint presentations
• Update/Browse/Search Evernote files from my computer
• Schedule meetings, activities, calls or check the ones that have been scheduled for me
• Check wife’s schedule and what wife has scheduled for me-using Google Calendar
• Listen to Podcasts: Coverville, Economist, NPR
• Play BeJewelled, Sudoko, Zombies
• Use phone numbers to plot map routes
• Record videos, take photos to share with family via email, MMS and Facebook
• Watch YouTube videos using wi-fi
• Find movie theatres, restaurants, menus, gas stations-see Poynt
• Tether my laptop to suck up my data plan
• Send notes and information to my online GTD organizer.
Supercharging your Blackberry
As mentioned, here are a half dozen apps from the Blackberry App World that are worth a download. If you have purchased a Blackberry in the last three years these should run on your system with no problem. Storm users need to double check.
If you could only pick a single app, this would be the one to pick. Once set up, it allows you to dictate text messages, emails and notes using only your voice! So, for example, after a meeting, take 15 minutes and record your meeting notes and it converts it quickly and accurately into text or email (or both). It also allows you to use your voice to set up calls, do Google searches, open applications, etc. It is an amazing deal that makes the smartphone doubly useful.
If you are allowed two apps on your phone, make this one the second. This software makes it easy to store and read PDF files. It doesn’t just allow you to zoom in, it actually re-configures the PDF document so the text fits the screen exactly. If you want a bigger bolder font then simply choose it and the Reader just pushes the document down so that you never need to scrolls sideways back and forth to read a PDF. I personally have all investment manager, insurance or tax reports forwarded to my Blackberry email and catch up on reading when I have an extra 10 min to spare. This has again expanded immensely the usefulness of the phone for me.
Forget Urban Spoon, this cool little Swiss Army knife of an app lets you use your phone’s GPS to find the closest restaurant, movie theatre and businesses. You can see menus, make reservations, see movie trailers, call them, map a route or find a specific type of meal. It also allows you to do reverse look up of numbers, see the weather forecast and it will even predict interest rates. Well, the last one, not really but that would be cool, eh?
It has Mail, Maps, your Calendar, the Google Reader, etc. Its free, updated and slick, so just get it.
This Chapters/Indigo book reader app works beautifully on your Blackberry. You can browse the free titles, paid titles and best sellers list. Realistically, unless you have a Torch its not going to be a perfect reading experience but again, its great when you have a few minutes to relax or get caught on a train or commute without anything to do.
This funky app is actually part of the software package you can use to synchronize your current contact manager (ACT, Outlook, Goldmine, Lotus Notes etc) to your Blackberry. Contacts, tasks, calendar, appointments can by synced one way –either way or both ways so that any time you update your Blackberry information it will be moved to your desktop software as well. Further it can also be used to sync things in all sort of various ways, your Outlook contacts with Google, for example.
I know this seems like a combination dense list and crazy ranting diatribe. It may be partially therapeutic for me but it springs from frustrations triggered by doing seminars and talking to so many current Blackberry owners who intend to ditch their BB to get an iphone or alternative for a feature that their existing Blackberry already offers, sometimes in a better-executed format.
I fully understand – and am myself sometimes tempted by- the novelty, the cool-factor and over all ‘slick-willy-ness’ of the iphone slab and the Massive Marketing Machine known as Apple. As a gadget geek and amateur tech dweeb, I CRAVE seeing what is out there and what can be done. And ALL the companies (including RIM) have done an excellent job of making us think the phone itself is the point.
But, in the end, I own a smartphone for one core reason: To enhance my ability to get my work and my life taken care of.
So, whether a phone has 1,000 or a 1,000,000 apps available, has 500mgs or 1 gig of RAM, has a 5mg or an 8mg camera, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as it enhances my ability to work and live. And in my less-than-humble opinion, based on features like the keyboard shortcuts and over a decade of refinement, the Blackberry does that best.