A Newbie's Experience with Blackberry Curve 9220

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By Lawrence Villamar | September 21, 2012 10:33 AM EST

Why I Switched to Blackberry Only to Find Out Why RIM is 'Dying'

Research in Motion (TSX: RIM), even as it is undergoing a “self-reinvention,” was recently branded by the Huffington Post’s Jason Gilbert as  one of the makers of the worst smart phones in America.

“Its phones are woefully outdated in almost every aspect except the keyboard: Email, Internet, Maps, Apps, Camera -- you name it, it's lackluster on BlackBerry,” wrote Gilbert.

I had never really fully understood why tech columnists consistently described RIM as a “dying company”. That is, until I owned a Blackberry Curve 9220. But first, let me dwell on what induced me to acquire the smartphone.

Quite a number of people in my circle use smart phones from the Canadian company, which was a huge factor in my decision to acquire a Blackberry device. RIM may have seen its market share plummets, but it still have a significant presence with 4.8% share in the global market. It sold 8 million devices in the spring quarter.

Maintaining a “critical mass” should be a priority for RIM in order to stay in business. Its products are used to connect people, particularly its unique feature, the Blackberry Messenger (BBM). There will be little incentives to own a smartphone that connects you to very few people. RIM knows this well enough. It has geared towards building communities through extensive use of social media to connect with its device users. If you look at Facebook pages for handset makers, Blackberry is one of the more prominent in the brand pages. It had set up pages for every country it has a significant presence and actively updates and engages its fans on Facebook.

It had also lowered its price barrier. The contract price for its smartphones, like the Blackberry Curve 9220, is immensely lower as compared to Apple’s iPhone 5 or Samsung’s Galaxy S3. It allows more people to own Blackberry devices, and thus builds incentives for even more people to switch to Blackberrys to conveniently connect with people who are currently using the Blackberry. It also helps that some users, like my female friend, nag their friends to join them in BBM.

Most of the people that own a Blackberry are often professionals or business owners. Its devices are still popular in that particular demographic. A businessman, who owns a chauffeur service company in the UK, told me he still prefers Blackberrys due to its reputable security features. Of course, we had the conversation over BBM.

I use the Blackberry Messenger to send documents and photographs to the people I worked with who use Blackberrys, too. I find this method easier than attaching it and sending it over e-mail, which in my subscription has an additional cost.

I have another reason why I switched to the Blackberry. I felt a certain affinity to the device, as it is prominently used in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom”. The characters in the HBO series tout the device, like its integral to their work and lives. In one scene, MacKenzie McHale, played by the beautiful Elizabeth Mortimer, orders Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) to check his Blackberry. And what do you know? There’s an e-mail from Joe Biden (“Joe Biden!” shouted MacKenzie as if to cue in the viewers of the importance of the e-mail) in Will’s Blackberry.

The use of Blackberry gives the series a certain feel of both being recent and dated. The devices featured in Sorkin’s series have a scroll ball, in particular McAvoy’s. It’s nostalgic, too. In time past, Blackberry’s design were mimicked by other handset makers. You can still trace some of its influence in certain Nokia handsets like the C3 or X2-01.

In one of the episode of “The Newsroom,” Will McAvoy threw his Blackberry after McHale asks him to remove it from his desk as it could still be seen on camera. Sometimes, I feel like throwing my Blackberry Curve 9220, too.

It was frustrating trying to familiarize with the device. Navigation is not as easy as in other devices. Fortunately, I had some friends to support me through the phase, acknowledging that Blackberrys are not “user-friendly”. But it was fun figuring out the ins and outs of the new device.

I successfully downloaded “Foursquare” and “Molome” from the the Blackberry App World. I downloaded “Foursquare” by connecting the device to my PC, while I used wi-fi to get “Molome”. These first two downloads went pretty smoothly.

But even if these are free apps, RIM requires you to connect a payment account, which automatically debits your purchases. In contrast, Apple allows you to download free apps from its store even without providing a credit card. You simply need to register your e-mail with the iTunes store.

While we’re on apps, I like to point out that Kindle for Blackberry is not available for Curve 9220. For someone, like me, who loves to read, this is a let down. Kindle is arguably the best e-book reader app, and you simply have to get it in your device.

The App World in my brand new device is curiously not up-to-date. After my first two successful download, my device required me to get the latest version to connect to the online store, when I used wi-fi. I attempted to connect through my PC but it cannot detect my device. Either that, or I keep on getting the plug in error. Fortunately, I was able to download a new version of the App World but only after several frustrating attempts.

The media sync feature of its ecosystem feels certainly out-dated or as Gilbert described it, “lackluster.” It simply can’t keep up with the user experience in iTunes, where the downloading music and other media in your iOS device is so easy and smooth. You also don’t need to open an Internet browser to connect to Apple’s store.

RIM should take a cue from Google. In its company philosophy, the search giant shared its ten things that helped it get to the top. One of which is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” One can simply hope RIM will consider “user experience” in its core philosophy, as it seeks to re-invent itself and prevent an actual death. While it may be “dying,” it does not preclude that it won’t put up a good fight.

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