Blackberry Storm vs. iPhone: Similar Experience or Disaster?

The reviews bear out what I said in May: Overall user experience, not touchscreen or features make the iPhone a winner vs. Blackberry Storm.

Any suggestion that adding a touchscreen would make Blackberry competitive with iPhone was always silly. Blackberry already creates a great experience for some users. To work equally well for another group of users, RIM needs to do more than add features or change input device. Continue reading

Thunder Lifetime Exclusive: The New Walled Garden?

Rumor is that RIM’s new BlackBerry Thunder will be a lifetime exclusive to Verizon and Vodaphone. This ups the ante from iPhone’s five year exclusive with AT&T in the US, though Apple has inked non-exclusive or co-exclusive deals in many other countries recently.

I’d thought the “walled garden” approach to data access on mobile phones was slowly slipping away as more phones support browsing the open Internet, including downloading media that can be used as ringtones or wallpaper.

(Just two years ago a carrier asked us to shut down a program giving away a free promotional wallpapers. They considered it “revenue leakage” since we weren’t selling it and giving them a cut. Now they charge the brand to deliver promotion content free to the user.)

The iPhone arguably replaced one walled garden with three:

  1. Works only with AT&T
  2. Preventing installation of applications until a future release
  3. Requiring that ringtones be purchased from iTunes

Being AT&T-only did provide the benefits of tight voicemail integration, simplified pricing plans and painless activation. Apple may not have been able to get cooperation for that improved overall experience without the exclusive. Maybe that’s a feature rather than a bug.

M-Metrics reports only 2.8% of US mobile subscribers accessed a downloaded application in February 2008. Arguably, Apple is just as concerned with user experience as with any revenue possibilities here. While there are great mobile apps available for most handsets which should be reaching a broader audience, everything is difficult about the old way of finding, downloading and paying for applications.

Will RIM have the vision to apply pressure for similar innovations in its deals with Verizon and Vodaphone, or is the exclusive just another way to keep customers locked in? Please add your thoughts in the comments…

Thunder vs. iPhone: Experience not Features

The Wall Street Journal Reports that RIM is launching a new touch-screen BlackBerry, Thunder, in the third quarter, to be sold exclusively by Verizon, “answering the challenge posed by the popularity of Apple Inc.’s iPhone.”

They go on to say, “The iPhone’s sophisticated touch-screen was one feature that made Apple’s device a big hit.”

There is no list of features that made the iPhone a big hit.

The experience of buying, activating, and using iPhone made it a hit.

How easy it was to show the experience of using it made it a big hit.

Isn’t that the same thing that has already made the BlackBerry a hit in its target market? Show a roadwarrior in need of a workhorse how you scroll through emails with the thumbwheel, then do the same to select and dial a contact from the phonebook. Enter a quick email from the keyboard. You’ve just made a sale.

BlackBerry has less penetration to other markets not only because the features they use are different (in fact, many are the same), but the whole context is different. Who they are, what they use it for, when and where they use it. I haven’t seen the Thunder, but hopefully for RIM they’ll develop the kind of understanding and insight they brought to the roadwarrior, creating experiences for a new market, not just adding features for it.

Interviewed when the iPhone came out, I told Reuters that it wasn’t about the features. In fact, I was surprised in the first few hours with several “missing” features I might have expected, but these surprises didn’t meaningfully diminish my experience. They’d carefully selected features to leave out (or leave for later) as much as features to leave in.

[UPDATE 6/18: Wired ran a great article about Japanese market handsets competing on feature lists: “The manufacturers, who realize the absurdity of piling on features that don’t work well…. The average person only uses 5 to 10 percent of the functions available on their handsets. “]

Before iPhone, you had to do things the phone company’s way and the device’s way. It was all about learning how to deal calls to their support, calls to select plans, learning how to navigate the maze of device features. Even to me it seemed like a constant chore of dealing in arcane lore, and I like tech stuff.

The iPhone “felt like a living sculpture in my hands” because the whole experience was about the system fitting me instead of me finding a way to work with the system. The pieces fit together in a seamless whole. Every part was beautiful, from the box it came in to the physical device to the icons on the screen. My actions and the flowing animation and movement on screen at every step blended together as one and looked pretty.

I said elsewhere, “The iPhone really points out how unpleasant other interfaces are, how ugly and unwieldy. The iPhone responds immediately with rich and beautiful feedback to everything you ask it to do, making it beautiful to look at and a beautiful experience to use it….. When other companies are forced to bring as much attention to design to their devices, and pulling together as many features seamlessly, hopefully the bar will keep being raised for all.”

I didn’t have to struggle with the phone company or the device. For once, I could smile most every time I reached in my pocket.