Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BlackBerry Desktop Manager for the Mac, Part 2

I've received a number of questions regarding my earlier post on my experience with RIM's BlackBerry Desktop Manager for the Mac...
  • Yes, I tried different USB cables of varying lengths--short and long, retractable and non.
  • Yes, I made sure I was signed out of Spanning Sync on all my machines before going down this path.
  • Yes, I ensured that my "Import:Address Book Archive" executions were all into an address book totally devoid of entries, with iSync reset when I did so.
  • Yes, in addition to meeting the system requirements of OS 10.5.5 or above (as noted, I'm running 10.5.8) and BB OS 4.2 or above (as noted, I'm running, I'm running a version of iTunes (9.0.1) newer than the required 7.7.1. What that has to do with my contacts sync issue, I have no idea--I'm not running a friggin' iPhone here, folks.
  • Yes, I deleted, rebooted, and reinstalled the BDM application on my Mac multiple times, doing an iSync reset every time.
  • Yes, I tried both the single Mac (syncs faster) and multiple Mac (syncs safer) method. Same inaccurate and incomplete results.
  • No, I didn't have PocketMac on this machine. Ever.
  • No, I didn't try posting anything to BlackBerry's support forums. With all due respect, with nearly 25 years of personal computing under my belt, if I can't figure out a piece of consumer-focused software without turning to a manual, you've committed a serious design flaw, delivered a lousy implementation, and have little hope of Joe the Plumber enjoying a sufficiently simple and straightforward experience.
In an effort to further troubleshoot this problem, my buddy Anton dropped off an extra Curve. Like my own, this is a T-Mobile 8320 Curve, unlocked with a TMO unlock code. Anton wiped out this unit (which we'll call Curve B), ensuring that it was as close to factory fresh as possible.

I fired up my sandbox HackBook, which is an MSI Wind U100 running OS X 10.5.7. This too is as close to factory fresh as possible, with an address book which has never been populated. I used the same address book archive with which I'd started this most recent round of syncs. If the sync performed somewhat as expected, I'd end up with the same number of contacts on Curve B as I had in the HackBook's address book--2336.

Voilà! We have liftoff. Or do we? If you recall, in my previous post, I looked at five Karens, a Vince, an Anton, and myself. How did we fare this time around?

Better--but still far from perfect. All five Karens have physical addresses this time--definitely an improvement. Vince, Anton, and I all have physical addresses. Cool. But, one of Vince's three e-mail addresses is missing, as are three of my five; Anton is also missing one of his two mobile numbers.

On Curve B, I looked at about two dozen other records and detected the exact same thing--no more than one instantiation of a given type makes it through the sync process. Have a friend with two home e-mail addresses? Sorry--only one of those will make it from your Mac to the BlackBerry. Have a client with two office numbers or two mobiles? Forget about it--you now have a 50% chance of reaching him from your BlackBerry. Have a listing for relatives which contains both of their cell numbers? Oops, sorry Dad...my BlackBerry has decided you're not important enough to sync, so I'll have to ask Mom to pass her phone to you. Nothing personal, mind you. I'll call you from my desk on Father's Day.

Honestly, I don't know if Windows BDM has this limitation, but I'm pretty certain it doesn't--I think I'd recall such a shortcoming from my earlier (admittedly limited) experience with the Windows version. Plus, the fact that I ended up with two different forms of inaccurate sync results in my two tests speaks further to the fact that the architecture of the product may be fundamentally broken.

Let me be crystal clear on something here. I'm a HUGE BlackBerry fan. I'm a ridiculously heavy mobile e-mail user, so the iPhone (despite its vastly superior browsing experience) isn't an option for me--I need a keyboard. Plus, like many consultants, I run my business on my BlackBerry and on my Mac, so I've come up with workarounds (as I described in my earlier post) in an attempt to somewhat mimic the behavior and capabilities Windows BlackBerry users have enjoyed for years. While it's easy to dismiss the Mac as a small portion of the computing landscape, a company like RIM which is targeting consumers simply can't ignore the Mac community--one whose computer choice reinforces that they're willing to pay a multiple to enjoy the best possible computing experience. That's a vital demographic, no matter how you slice it.

Yes, I give RIM credit for delivering a product that doesn't wildly screw up my contacts like PocketMac did. Primum non nocere. Thank god for small victories.

And yes, sync is hard. Absolutely. But, with more than 80% of RIM's new customers in Q2 coming from the consumer sector, RIM's going to need to get BDM for the Mac right, and quickly. RIM's new advertising campaign is pretty impressive in terms of reach, although I can't say much about conversion--the effort at the Soldier Field kickoff of U2's North American tour was particularly underwhelming. RIM's making a ton of impressions, at concerts, on websites (as above), sporting events (where I'm getting a little sick of seeing Ernie Johnson's tap shoes), and in print. But, all of that spend, all of it, will go for naught if the product doesn't deliver on some pretty basic features like easy, accurate contact and calendar sync. Don't believe me? Then you haven't been keeping up on the Microsoft/Danger/Sidekick fiasco of the past two weeks. Content is king--and personal data like contacts and calendars are the royalty of content.

In the Q2 earnings call, RIM's CEO said "I really want to make it clear that this stuff is going much more mainstream, and we're teed up to go much more mainstream."

Not yet, you're not. Not yet.

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