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iPhone 4S: 7 Confessions Of A BlackBerry Addict

InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson takes you inside his first weekend with the iPhone 4S and Siri--including some hits and misses compared to his beloved BlackBerry.

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10 Key Steve Jobs Moments and Innovations
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On Friday October 14, after more than 10 years using BlackBerry mobile phones, I switched to an iPhone 4S running on AT&T's network. Although Siri hasn't exactly lived up to my (probably too high) expectations, and the phone and its upgraded OS are missing some important capabilities, I am unlikely to look back.

What's more, I also have a Samsung Galaxy SII Android phone running on T-Mobile's "4G" (really HSPA+) network. I have a good bit of Android experience, having tested several other phones from HTC, LG, and others, and I have plenty of iOS experience on the iPad. In other words, I'm not a novice; on the other hand, I did have to ask someone on a flight with me what the "lock" button on the iPhone was for (alert sounds, not screen lock, as it turns out).

After a weekend of work and play, the iPhone has become more of a companion than my BlackBerry ever was, and I can't quite put my finger on why. Our company just began allowing the use of iPhones, and perhaps it's this mix of the personal and professional that makes it so compelling. The BlackBerry--for me at least--only hit the personal for the necessities: personal e-mail and calendar integration. Our company, for security reasons, doesn't allow Android devices, but if it did I could imagine the Samsung Galaxy SII also becoming more of a constant companion, even with its quirky user experience.

Based on years of conversations with CIOs and IT managers around the world, my sensitivities around mobile device management and mobile security are particularly heightened. It makes me queasy to give into my instincts as a consumer and end user, rather than as someone who understands the need to protect corporate assets and to protect end users from security and regulatory compliance accidents.

[ Learn more about the iPhone. View iPhone Through The Years: Visual Tour ]

On the other hand, having seen the host of mobile device management solutions, I worry less. That RIM enables hundreds of policies is a comfort, but the hard truth is that most companies deploy only a fraction of those policies, most, if not all, of which are now available in multi-platform device management services, like those of MobileIron, Airwatch, and Fiberlink, just to name a few.

With the caveat that I haven't thoroughly tested iOS 5 (CNET's early iOS 5 review provides a more comprehensive series of observations; I also liked Technologizer's Ideas for iOS 6), and that this isn't meant as a product review or comparison, here are 7 early iPhone 4S observations from a confessed BlackBerry addict.

1.) Getting Started: Simple.

Like my colleague Eric Zeman, Friday work prevented me from jumping into the morass of people trying to activate new phones, and that was probably a blessing in disguise. It took about a minute for my phone to get activated. (See iPhone 4S: My First Night.)

Because my company has to specifically enable new devices on its Exchange Server, Friday night's iPhone 4S activation, while flawless, was incomplete--I wasn't getting corporate e-mail until Saturday. I didn't know how much of my contact database would come over to the iPhone, so I tried using Google Sync--the BlackBerry app pulls in contact information, and then I was able to pull it in on the iPhone. However, this seemed to only pull in some of my contacts, and absolutely no phone numbers. Thankfully when IT activated e-mail, everything came with it.

2.) Siri: Friends With Benefits

I had high expectations for Siri. I still do, but for now I'm less sanguine. Apparently Siri can feed requests to the Web, interact with messaging systems on the phone, and connect to Yelp and Wolfram Alpha. I suppose it's a start, but it does impose some early limitations. On the other hand, Apple has specifically said the service is in beta testing; in short, we should give it some time.

Still, a few early observations. First, Siri doesn't seem as interested in getting personal--for example, she doesn't want to know my name. Maybe that seems silly, but like when Starbucks calls out your name to give you a drink, it just feels better, more personal.

Second, Siri's hooks into messaging don't seem deep. I tried to get Siri to reply to a message in my inbox from someone named "Tim," but because she couldn't find that particular Tim in my contacts, it simply wouldn't work.

Third, while some have said that Siri can ferret out "meaning," that capability is still somewhat limited. For example, I asked Siri to find movie reviews of "Ides of March." She showed me movie listings in my area. I asked for New York Times movie reviews, and she showed me movie listings in New York. Eventually I got her to simply enter my phrase into a Google Search.

Still, simple replies to text messages, Google searches, restaurant searches, and changes to my calendar all worked really well, and that, in itself, is pretty exciting.

Unfortunately using Siri in public still feels a bit like showing off (look at me, I have the new iPhone!). And more intrusive on those nearby than making a phone call.

For a fun time, read Mashable's Siri greatest hit comebacks; you can have lots of fun with her ... she'll be a fantastic wing-person at parties.

3.) Notifications

One of the things that I got used to on my BlackBerry is all of the little icons striped across the top of the screen--essentially a notification bar in miniature. It shows you new LinkedIn requests, new messages, missed phone calls, voicemail, and so on--really, any app whose developers have reached into the notification capabilities of the OS can have notifications displayed there. Tap on the strip and you get an entire menu of notifications, with more detail, and the ability to go to the app.

iOS 5 provides a better form of notification than previous versions, which were very interrupt heavy. I'd be reading something or typing a message and something from CNN would pop up and I'd have to view it or dismiss it. (Also, as always, each app shows new messages or changes on the app icon itself.) Now it's much less intrusive. And there is a notification center--swipe from the top of the screen down, and there they all are.

With the BlackBerry, I could see how many new messages I had (text, voice, e-mail), all at a glance. With the iPhone, if the screen is locked, I really can't see anything. It might seem a little thing, but I never really had to hunt around to find new incoming messages.

On my Samsung Android phone, when in normal mode, I see notifications atop the screen just like on a BlackBerry. Other than the notification center that you have to open, there is no iPhone equivalent.

4.) To Touch Is To Love

So this is what touch screen user interfaces should feel like? I exaggerate but every iPhone experience and application is practically mindless and incredibly responsive. Some of this, of course, is because of the fast processor in the iPhone 4S; the newest BlackBerry devices also have this sort of experience, and certainly the Galaxy SII does as well.

On the other hand, it seems this iPhone 4 form factor may be getting a little long in the tooth. The 4.5-inch Galaxy SII is practically a mini-tablet. Put differently, I could see watching a Netflix movie on the Galaxy SII (and did), but not on the iPhone 4S ... or at least it wouldn't be as enjoyable as it is on the Samsung phone. In fact, the Galaxy SII screen--its size, its responsiveness, its resolution--are a step above anything I've seen.

5.) Big Fear: The Keyboard

Honestly, my biggest fear was the touch keyboard. I've used plenty, I've used Swype, but I remained unconvinced that I would be able to send e-mail with anything more than a cryptic one-sentence reply. To my surprise, I'm already getting over it--the auto-guessing is quite nice and will become a time saver once I get used to it. I'm a touch typist, so having to watch the words unfold is a little unnerving. So far so good, though.

There are some nuances I'm discovering by comparing the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy SII--for example, the iPhone's keyboard provides audio feedback while the Galaxy SII provides tactile feedback. So far I can't decide which I like better, but I'm leaning toward the iPhone, because the vibration almost feels like I'm getting a mini shock--are my fingers being punished or massaged?

I like that the comma and period keys are part of the alphabetic keyboard in Android, whereas (I'm sure there's a shortcut, but I haven't discovered it) on the iOS I have to switch to the numeric keypad. In fact, on the Android keypad, I can also get to numbers and symbols all from one keyboard if I want.

There are many nuances here--far too many to get into, but for those who create information, from short messages to lengthier ones, this matters.

6.) Where's The Camera Button?

Most phones these days use hardware buttons to get quick access to the phone's camera. Not so on the iPhone 4S, at least from what I can tell. I read somewhere that tapping the home button twice will bring up the camera, but it doesn't for me. The same can be said of the Samsung Galaxy SII.

However, the camera app is incredibly easy to use and the quality so far has been pretty stunning. On both devices.

One disappointment is that while I can share a photo in the iPhone app to many social networks and the phone's messaging system, I can't share it to Facebook; I can on Android.

7.) iPhone 4S: Hits and Misses

Miss: Much has been made of Android widgets. I didn't think this was all that important at first, but having used them, especially on a phone (not just a tablet), I can see the instant value--pumping content feeds (news, weather, messaging, calendar, the song playing on iHeartRadio) into a widget right on the screen, without having to open an application is ... well, it's just a great user experience. I wish the iPhone 4S had them.

Hit: Having an iPhone 4S means fewer devices. I wonder if this will impact my use of the iPad, but it certainly has made my iPod Touch something I might have to re-gift.

Hit: This week, RIM is offering users $100 of free apps, a start (let's hope it's a start) to rectify a three-day outage that affected millions of users. For our troubles, we get SIMS 3, Bejeweled, N.O.V.A., and a few other games and toys. Hard to tell if anyone will get excited about that; it wouldn't have meant much to me as a consumer.

Miss: I love Android's universal back button. It's so simple--take me back to where I was.

I'll keep testing, especially examining battery life. While I've set up iCloud, I still haven't taken advantage of it yet, primarily because it requires Lion on the Mac, and because a few of our internal applications don't run properly on Lion, we still aren't running it here.

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