What I learned from my last blog post… and what would you like me to blog about?

Let me start by saying that, while I do like speaking, I don’t consider myself to be a good writer. This is the reason that my posts are largely bullet points or PowerPoint posts and tend to be mostly of a technical nature. Fortunately, blogs in the technical arena gain readerships according to the market they target.

As my blogs are targeted in a small niche of ACT! users who want to improve their technical understanding of the product, I don’t chase the volume hits of more professional bloggers. To put this in perspective, I have been typically achieving about 2000 hits per month on this blog (about the same as I get on the main GL Computing web site.

I try to post at least a couple of times a month and my posts do have a fair degree of text contact, which the search engines love to index.

I do promote my posts via Social Media:

  • Twitterfeed automatically sends a Tweet on Twitter very soon after an update
  • New posts are automatically added to the News section in the LinkedIN ACT! Fanatics Group 
  • Networkblogs automatically posts them to the GL Computing Facebook page and to the streams of those who follow either the blog page or are fans of the GL page.
  • I also find other similar blog posts and, where applicable, add a comment referencing my post
  • Additionally, I use links to the posts when answering forum questions where I have covered the topic in a post.

Currently, about 50% of hits to the blog are from referring sites (mainly forums I post to and the social media links) and only 35% from search engines.

However, last week, I posted about Why I prefer Blackberry over iPhone for Businesses. This was picked up by a couple of journalists and professional bloggers like Neerav Bhatt on his blog: Introduction to RIM Blackberry Mobile Phones: Pros and Cons

Not only did this article receive a lot of nice comments, but it was highly re-tweeted and has so far received about 1000 hits in less than 2 weeks (500 in the first day).

This raises some questions that I’d like to pose to you:

  1. What would you like to see me blog about?
    While I intend to keep targeting the ACT! user base, should I keep the focus on product technical posts? Or would you like to see more posts on other topics that might be of interest, such as: mobile computing, social media, general CRM, general sales/marketing or general IT?
  2. Would it detract from the site if I added some Google Ads or sponsorships?
    As I provide the content of this blog for free, do you think it would be a problem to go down this path? Previously, I had not considered the hit rate to be high enough to make this worth-while and also reasoned that the technical people who read the site wouldn’t be interested in this.

To add one more thing – While I don’t sell to end-users, if anyone wishes to utilise my services for any work related to ACT! or IT, you just need to have your reseller contact me to book some time. I can be available remotely for work at any time of the day as we support (via our resellers) in all time-zones.

Please let me know via a comment to this article, a comment in the ACT! Fanatics Group or privately via our Web Site Contact Page if you have any thoughts on what you’d like to see articles on or if there’s anything I can assist you with.

Updated: Why I prefer Blackberry over iPhone for business

Now updated for iOS4, iOS4.2 and iPhone4 … would like to add Blackberry 6.0 if I can get a Torch

After many years using Blackberry phones (several 7xxx models and, until recently, an 8100 Pearl) I have reluctantly had to switch to an iPhone (3GS 32GB) in order to test some software.

I thought I would give it some time before posting this blog as I wanted to make sure my issues weren’t just a question of not having found how to perform the functions I was used to.

Having now spent 3 months on the iPhone, I am at a loss as to how anyone would choose this device for business use or if email is really important to them. There are so many functions that I relied on that are just not available on the iPhone. I acknowledge that some of these might be specific to my carrier and some might be due to the actual way I prefer to operate. I have come to use, and rely on, my Blackberry as a virtual office and communications centre that allows me to be fully in touch when on the road.

So I thought I would put together a list and see if any of the iPhone experts can tell me if I'm doing it wrong or if this device is really so flawed and I’m immune to the cool-aid.

Note: For users of Sage ACT! who want to put their ACT! data on their phone, see this: Comparison of various smart phone links for Sage ACT! (4.0 and later)

  • The device certainly seems well-built and solid… like most of the Blackberry phones (except the Flip). But dropping the iPhone on it’s face (without a protective case) will likely need a replacement
    * iPhone4 has a much harder screen and I haven’t heard of any screen cracks from an accidental drop
  • Having to use a pin to insert/replace the sim card just seems odd. Not having this “Ikea special tool” I had to wait a day to get a pin before I could use the device
  • As does having no way to replace the battery. This became a real issue when I found how limited the battery life is compares to the Blackberry - about 7 hours in the iPhone compared to several days on the Blackberry. When travelling with the Blackberry, I’d take one extra charge battery and have over a week using it is my sole means of communications
    * iPhone4 improves battery by about 20%, but still poor compared to Blackberry
  • Argh! A non-standard USB cable… and they don’t include a separate one for the power supply – so moving the phone from the PC to a wall power means buying another cable or carrying the supplied one with me. I can only see this an an artificial way for Apple to make some extra on the cable.
    * I’ve actually had two break on me
  • No slot to use for an additional memory stick seems wrong for a supposedly powerful device. It makes sharing data with other systems and platforms much more limited
  • Even with carrying the cable and without ability to use external memory, it has 32GB – but still can’t be used as a memory stick or external drive via USB (except for photos). What a waste! I should have purchased the one with 8GB
    * There are apps that allow it as a drive, but you need to have the cable and it installs drivers that might not be wanted on the other machines
    * The photos are completely unsecured… plug into any PC and connect as a drive.
  • Shouldn’t all phone cameras now have a flash and zoom?
    * Flash rectified … zoom also, but very poor – best not to use and zoom on PC later
  • I found the setup to be very easy. Although I am disappointed in having to use iTunes for everything
  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to setup multiple devices for a business over the air
    * This can be done now, but not as functional or as integrated as Blackberry BES
  • Connecting to my Wi-Fi was pretty easy once I’d changed the settings. My Wi-Fi supports IPSec security which the iPhone doesn’t
  • Adding email accounts (Exchange and POP3) was remarkably easy – it was fortunate I have OWA
  • No way to roll-out, administer, secure or wipe the device remotely
    * Wiping can be done with MobileMe subscription
  • Unlike the US, the iPhone is available here in Australia through all the major carriers. But, unlike with the Blackberry, none of them offer unlimited data. I guess this means more searching for Wi-Fi spots
    * Data limits have improved, but still not unlimited
  • But don’t worry US… the call drop-outs and disconnects that people in the US seem to think are related to the AT&T network – they happen here with the iPhone on all networks.
  • I’ve found that downloading the same amount of data (email, web pages, etc), the iPhone uses between 5 and 20 times the bandwidth. This might explain why carriers are reluctant to give unlimited data. It also explains why the iPhone is so much slower at performing similar tasks.
  • When it comes to security, there is no contest. See the Blackberry Official Statement
  • On the other hand, the iPhone has been found to have some major security issues:
  • Additionally, the iPhone requires MobileME (additional subscription) in order to remotely wipe a lost phone. For remote-wiping on a BlackBerry, you can do this through BES, BIS or customers can opt for an emergency feature where their phone automatically erases all of its data if it’s been off the network for a set amount of time. This is powerful as it helps protect against someone who steals the phone and pops the sim card before trying to access the data.
Operation and Interface
  • No multi-tasking. That means no back-ground sync for databases or the ability to have an application run a task in the background which doing something else in the foreground
    * iOS4 does allow specific tasks to be run in the background (not entire apps like Blackberry)
  • This also means you can’t really use it for Instant Messaging with products like Skype, Live Messenger, etc as you can only receive messages when that application is the open one.
    * iOS4 allows this if app re-written for it… but a significant battery drain
  • Not even task-switching. Applications close and have to re-open (then wait till they get up-to-date data). I have lost work when checking a received email or answering the phone.
    * iOS4 completely addresses this.
  • Why can’t all Settings be accessed from within the applications. Having to check both the iPhone settings application and any option in an application itself just doesn’t make sense.
  • The Blackberry menu makes accessing more common tasks faster.
  • The scrolling, while pretty, actually makes it slower to get to the actual point you want
    * Still can’t go to a specific page or to the bottom of a large list/doc without a lot of scrolling
  • The scroll wheels to set the time or alarm, while a pretty novelty the first few times take more time to set than just typing the digits.
  • Maybe my thumbs are a bit big, but even after several months I keep pressing Shift or Del accidently (depending on the side of the screen) - even in Landscape. Worse, even though used to a much more narrow device, I still can’t get the right keys as fast in Portrait mode… but in same apps, Landscape isn’t an option – this slows data entry.
    * After all this time, still have this issue
  • In these days of internet shouldn’t the period and @ be on the main layout? Sure it has the same double-space for period at the end of sentence, but this isn’t great for a URL or email address
  • The spell check only gives one option… what about other words that are similar?
    * The iPhone spell-check errors have become legendary … hate to make some I’ve seen to a business contact
  • The spell check on the Blackberry can also include all the data from the address book – your contacts names and companies. Makes typing much easier.
  • Blackberry spell check allows manual adding and customisation of the words. iPhone rarely remembers common words.
  • When you start entering the data in the Blackberry phone, it auto searches the address book (first, last and company name) and as you scroll, shows each contact’s numbers to click and call. With the iPhone, you have to go through additional steps with this
  • The “End Call” button is large and seems to be right where my check touches the phone if not using hands free or via headset. This has caused me to accidently mute of hang up prematurely on a few calls
    * Still an issue with iPhone4. If I move my head and some light hits the sensor, the screen turns on and my cheek hits the mute, Facetime or end buttons
  • It is neat that you can add additional phone/address fields, but unfortunately these don’t sync back to Exchange.
  • You can’t sort by Company or even view that field in the Contacts application. While you can search by that field it's a bit harder to find the right contact
  • Searching for a Contact means you have to scroll all the way back to the top. With the Blackberry, you just start typing and it will show the contacts that have a matching First, Last or Company Name – no matter where you are in the list. The Blackberry search is also MUCH faster
  • When my Exchange server was down, I couldn’t access any contact and they had to be fully downloaded when it was up again… shouldn’t these be stored locally? I haven’t tried to see if I lose all this data if I’m out of radio range.
Email (Exchange 2003 is my Primary server)
  • An email received by Exchange, sent via BES to the Blackberry is nearly instantaneous. It can take considerable time to appear on the iPhone unless I open the folder.
    * BES Push much better than ActiveSync
  • There is no Home screen notification of having received emails, requiring you to manually scroll through the email folders after having left the device alone or while in a meeting.
    * With 180+ folders and email auto moved to them, this still annoys me – iPhone only notifies of emails in Inbox. The BB has a home notification (irrespective of folder) and an Unread Mail folder (like Outlook)
  • When viewing some wide HTML emails, you have the options of the text being way to small to read or zooming it and having to scroll back and forwards each line. The Blackberry method of the user being able to select the font for all emails might make the rendering less accurate, but makes the emails much easier to read and respond faster.
  • I have about 180 folders in Exchange with rules that file incoming emails automatically. I had to manually select each folder for Push… and, when my Exchange server went down, other than having no local data. I also had to re-select all the folders for Push, manually! Why doesn’t this get stored?
    * Seems a bit better with iOS4
  • The Blackberry Message List allows me to see all emails received (and include SMS in the list if you want), no-matter which folder - like Unread Mail in MS Outlook. But on the iPhone, I have to scroll through the folder list (the 180 I mentioned above) and know the unread figures of each folder to check for any new items. Nothing notifies you which account or folder has the new email.
  • File to Email Folders - to file a message to a folder on the BB, I just have to type the first few characters of the folder. The next time I file a similar email, it remembers the folder I users for that user/subject from last time. With the iPhone I have to manually scroll down the list every time
  • Blackberry has option to set detailed filters for which email you want (by sender, size, times, etc) so only important messages after hours. iPhone is all or nothing
  • No option to set/change Exchange “Out of Office” auto reply
  • From the email list on the Blackberry, I can also click and select to call the contact (if they exist in my address book) or to forward via another system (SMS, Facebook, etc). On the iPhone you have to open the email, then go to the Contact to call/SMS and can only Forward via email.
  • While the iPhone does render many pages more accurately, this ironically makes many harder to read … especially pages formatted wide. To get the text large enough to read means scrolling back and forth every line
  • When viewing wide pages, you have the options of the text being way to small to read or zooming it and having to scroll back and forwards each line. The Blackberry column view might not display a page as the publisher intended, but makes them considerably easier to read.
  • Apple don’t seem interested in Adobe Flash whereas RIM and Adobe have announce a partnership to improve the support for rich content through these technologies - RIM and Adobe to Simplify Delivery of Rich Content and Applications for BlackBerry Smartphones
  • The Blackberry menu makes it MUCH easier to copy a URL or even to send that URL via another app – Email, SMS or even non-core apps like Facebook, Twitter, other social media or Instant Messaging. With iPhone, you need to copy the URL, close the browser, open the other app and paste
Notifications and Ringtones
  • The Blackberry LED displays in different colours to let you know of an event without even touching the device
  • For more detail, clicking once on the keypad will show you how many items you’ve received – separated by emails, SMS, missed calls, Facebook Messages, Windows Messenger IMs or Skype chats. The iPhone will only show SMSs and missed calls until you open each app to check.
  • Why do I have to stuff around changing the media formats in iTunes? The Blackberry can use any media file for a ringtone
  • The Blackberry also allows different ringtones for each event type. The iPhone doesn’t allow different settings (ringtone, volume, number of repeats, etc) for each event
    * iOS4.2 now allows SMS ringtone, but you can’t change email, Facebook, Twitter, etc
  • On the Blackberry you can create different Profiles to set all the notifications to the ringtone, volume, LED use, number of vibrations and how often to repeat. The iPhone doesn’t provide the flexibility of choices let alone the ability to change all the settings in a couple of clicks (eg when you go into a meeting)
  • The Blackberry even allows exceptions for specific users … eg having the device in Silent mode except for certain important contacts
  • This is an area where, with it’s heritage in the iPod, I would expect it to excel… but even here, there are items better done on the Blackberry. For example, the Blackberry allows you to jump to the previous track, beginning of the current track or next track by holding the volume controls on either phone or headset. Much easier than having to get the device from your pocket and turn it on to make those changes
  • While they both play video, the wider screen of the iPhone is an area that it wins. Although I don’t watch enough videos or TV on the device to make this much of an advantage
  • It’s annoying to have to go via iTunes to add/remove media. On the Blackberry, you can view it as a USB drive and copy the files into folders of your choosing
Social Media and Instant Messaging
  • The lack of background tasks seriously reduces the option for Instant Messaging, which I prefer to SMS in many ways.
    * iOS4 improves this
  • It also means when starting up a social media app you have to wait till it updates the information as the applications can’t sync in the background
    * iOS4 improves this
  • While apps like Facebook, LinkedIN and some of the Twitter apps I have tested are comparable in the functions, the do miss some areas that reduces their effectiveness:
    • Notifications are only available from some apps… and even then are not reliable (as above)
    • Facebook only shows last Notification on Home screen. To see if you have more, you must go to the app
    • both Facebook and LinkedIN have the ability to import their contacts to the phone… but LinkedIN only as new contacts (I already have most in my address book) and neither can link to a Contact that I might have with a different name from their social media account.
    • The both take some time to sync, but at least on the Blackberry, this happens in the background
      * iOS4 improves this – doesn’t sync in background, but if app already loaded, starts faster
    • The FaceBook app won’t bring in the email address on phone (saying it’s a privacy issue), but this is done on the Blackberry
    • If using Social Media to schedule events, the iPhone can’t sync these with the calendar (the Blackberry does this and in the background)
    • The Blackberry API has permitted some applications to create dedicated fields in the address book to link the contacts to their social media profiles
Software Development
  • The requirement for all apps to only install via their AppStore means that developers can’t get selected groups of users to test code before release. While this can be done by “Jailbreaking” the phone this is not something you want to tell users to do.
    Update: I’ve just been informed that it is possible to beta test software, although with an unnecessarily complicated procedure to create an Ad Hoc iPhone Apps Distribution
  • The AppStore delivery requirement reduces the possibility for more complex licensing models
  • Apple’s certification process seems to be easy for trivial apps (like iFart), but more stringent on more complex products. They also don’t seem to want to tell a developer if a particular function will pass till the product is complete and the money spent.