Blackberry smartphones are mindbogglingly popular. I’m being asked about them more often than iPhones. That shouldn’t be a surprise – almost half the smartphones sold in the first quarter of 2008 were Blackberry devices, a significant increase over the previous quarter, while the market share of iPhones took a nose dive in the same period, according to the Associated Press.

I wrote some cautionary notes a few months ago about the Blackberry. Let me try to be more specific.

  • If you work in a company that supports the Blackberry, it is a tremendous device. The company runs big servers to make it so.
    • Small businesses can get similar software for their server; licenses are cheap or free. Count on a significant cost to set up the Blackberry server software and get things working – and prepare for the risk not only that it might not work smoothly, but also that it might muck up your server in other ways. Remember, the reason your server runs so smoothly is because we change it as little as possible. I’ve heard stories, that’s all I’m saying.
  • If you are an individual with a single POP3 email address, the Blackberry is a good phone and a decent email device. You’ll have to fuss with a couple of settings in your mail program to leave messages on your mail provider’s server so Blackberry can retrieve them; that can occasionally go sideways, resulting in your mail program or Blackberry receiving twelve duplicate copies of messages or something, but on the whole it will be fine.
    • You won’t be syncing over the air with your computer’s calendar or address book. You can sync in a cradle attached to the computer if you install Blackberry’s software. Personally, I find the software to be fairly hideous and unintuitive, but it does its job, if you’re lucky. Heck, hideous unintuitive software is easy to come by – I’ve seen worse.
  • If you have a Google GMail or Yahoo mail account, the Blackberry integrates beautifully with them. Google, in particular, is cooking up ways to connect to a Blackberry and has released a program to sync the Blackberry calendar with a Google calendar. You know, if you’re using a Google calendar. (If you’re using a Google calendar, you’re young and devouring new technology at a furious pace and the last thing you need is condescending advice from an old fogey. Go and Twitter in peace.)
  • If you work in a company run by Microsoft Small Business Server, the Blackberry is very, very wrong for you.
    • If you get a device running Windows Mobile 5 or 6, I can set you up in three minutes with your Outlook calendar, contacts, and email syncing over the air, continuously, both directions.
    • If you get a Blackberry, I can create a clumsy, half-baked flow of messages to the Blackberry that is divorced from your Outlook folders. Everything about it will be a compromise. You’ll blame me. I’ll be defensive.

The smartphone is becoming a platform that is as important for many people as their computer. Shop carefully and look ahead – a lot will be happening in the next year to improve the process of making your information available everywhere!

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