Tag Archive for blackberry

iPhone vs. BlackBerry

Reading edutech blogs, one might think that the iPhone is the only mobile platform out there. As a happy BlackBerry user, I have resisted the urge to try out what is apparently the greatest device ever. Nonetheless, running a school tech department, I felt an obligation to at least try one out. Fortunately, we came into a free iPod Touch as a result of our annual, huge order from Apple.

ipod blackberry

Before you get too excited, let me state for the record that the iPhone is a more capable device than the Blackberry. It can do more (and do it better). Its graphics are superior, the screen is larger, and the glass keyboard isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The camera shoots better pictures, and you can watch TV shows on it. RSS and Twitter text is more readable and easier to navigate.

Now that we have got that out of the way (phew!), let us consider a different question. What functions do I need in my mobile device?

On my Blackberry, I run:

  1. Phone
  2. Mail
  3. Calendar
  4. Address book
  5. Notes
  6. Tasks
  7. GMail for a hosted domain
  8. Google Maps
  9. TwitterBerry
  10. Facebook
  11. Google News
  12. NewsGator Reader (RSS)
  13. Opera web browser
  14. Camera

In other words, I can interact with practically all of my information sources from this device. I can blog, twit, photo, and so on. I can pay attention to either work or personal mail, depending on the day of the week. I suppose I could play music, but ever since I shortened my commute to 5 min, I don’t need to. When consuming information, I prefer text to audio and video, or at most a page of text supplemented with other media.

I paid $0 for the Pearl with a new AT&T service contract.

Adding the handheld to our school BlackBerry Enterprise Server took about 5 minutes.

I recharge the battery every other day.

To download new BlackBerry applications, I typically just Google what I want and download it from the manufacturer’s web site (i.e., like any other download). Click Install, and I’ve got the application.

iPod Touch

I spent about 20 minutes trying to determine whether I could avoid registering the product with Apple and still download the 2.0 software update. I could not.

$9.95 for the software update for a device we just purchased? I couldn’t just pay the fee and download the software. I also had to create an iTunes Store account in order to pay the fee.

Applications are only available through Apple. That seems scary. Every installation requires my iTunes password, even for free products. Why?

Apple says that they now fully support mail for Exchange servers. Except that it doesn’t work for me. Microsoft Entourage can access our Exchange server great through HTTP. Why can’t this iPod?

If I want push email, we have to install an Exchange ActiveSync server. I doubt this is as simple as Apple’s diagram might suggest.


Let’s focus on teaching and learning

It’s easy to get seduced by all the gadgetry out there, but this takes time away from our main purpose of building capacity to support teaching and learning. I’ll stick with the BlackBerry (for now).

Consumer pressure on IT departments

Last week’s New York Times article titled “Blackberry’s Quest: Fend Off the iPhone” explained the pressure that the iPhone is placing on Research In Motion to add consumer-friendly features to new Blackberry devices. The following statement caught my eye, due to its implications for school laptop programs.

Indeed, R.I.M.’s allure to carriers and corporations may be irresistible and impossible for Apple to weaken, even if Apple improves iPhone security. But some analysts still wonder what will happen to the BlackBerry’s dominance when everyday consumers start driving growth in the smartphone market.

We have seen a similar pressure arrive here at school. Students choose their own laptop platform when they enter the high school. Historically, their choice mirrored their parents’ platform adoption: about two-thirds PC. Two years ago, the platforms drew even — 50/50 PC and Mac. Last year, 90% of students chose Macintosh.

Though we have understood for a while that Apple’s popularity has skyrocketed here, we have to this point limited our analysis to the computers’ “cool factor”, the iPod, the new acceptability of Mac to Intel parents, and the good Mac experiences these students have had in their earlier years. The Times article underscores a broader trend. Our experience with Apple may repeat itself in other areas as students and teachers apply their consumer experiences to their work at school. We may need to stay abreast of technology developments beyond the realm of business.

TiVo is another good example. Many teachers now expect a different interaction with television than before, thanks to the rise of DVR in the home. Now, we have two TiVo devices on campus, though we have had to learn how to operate them within a network environment, with its increased challenges.

Trip Planning Project Using Google Earth

A teacher would like to move his annual seventh grade trip planning project from paper to Google Earth. The basic idea is that each student plans all of the details of a trip to an international destination of his or her choice. The report includes maps, itinerary, a description of each stop, a detailed trip budget, and general overview of the destination.

Google Earth promises to add value to this project at several levels. Earth’s core functionality is mapping — it provides an unlimited number of maps, at a variety of zoom levels, of every stop on the trip. Unlike paper maps, you can even display a view of a couple of blocks in a city and produce maps for remote locations that would otherwise be hard to find. The flyover tool provides a sense of scale difficult to communicate by any other means, as the viewer zooms from one location to another. Believe it or not, about a quarter of the families actually take the trip that the student has designed (there’s an authentic project for you!). It’s a lot easier to share this project with others in digital form. It’s even possible that the family would be able to take the student’s work with them on a smart phone!

We found that .kmz files can store nearly all of the information the teacher wants students to include. The placemark Info window apparently accepts HTML, because we found ourselves inserting links, paragraph tags, and even images embedded from other locations on the web. Earth’s print function automatically compiles the placemarks in a folder and produces step-by-step output suitable for sharing with others on paper if desired. Students could even store their bibliographies in the KMZ file, perhaps in the last placemark on the tour. Itinerary can be included by naming each placemark with the trip day. In this manner, all of the information the teacher wants students to research is embedded right in the most relevant place in the tour.

For kicks, we tested the concept that a KMZ file would be useful on a smartphone. We emailed a sample KMZ file to my Blackberry, but it didn’t open from Mail. Then, I uploaded it to a web site instead and accessed it from the Blackberry browser — then it worked great! Google Maps for Blackberry opened the KMZ file and displayed all of the placemarks in Rome right there. We didnt’ test whether the placemark details were retained but were sufficiently impressed that Maps could display the Earth file in a useful way. This feature could be useful for a lot of other applications for when you want to take with you a number of locations that you have looked up ahead of time.