Why I Switched to Android: 7 BlackBerry Geeks Speak

Why are so many gadget enthusiasts abandoning RIM's ship to go Google? CIO.com's Al Sacco chats with seven formerly loyal BlackBerry users who've recently switched to Google's Android platform for some straight talk on the big shift.

Lots of players are trying their hands in the modern mobile game. What used to be a contest dominated by just a couple of companies, namely Nokia and Research In Motion (RIM), in both the consumer and enterprise spheres, now has successful players ranging from Apple to Google and perennial mobile hanger-on Microsoft.

Motorola DROID X and RIM BlackBerry Torch 9800
Motorola DROID X and RIM BlackBerry Torch 9800

Apple, with its iOS-powered iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and Google, with devices based on the Android mobile OS, seem to be having the most success. That's due largely to both the "freshness" and functionality of their respective operating systems. Indeed, these two companies are stealing the most prospective smartphone users away from BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM).

A few months back, before Android had gained the public support it's currently seeing, and while Apple was barreling along, full-steam ahead, I spoke with a handful of hardcore gadget-geeks, folks who live and breathe mobile, who'd recently made the switch from a BlackBerry to the iPhone. The idea: Spotlight the factors that lured them away from RIM and into Apple's "arms." (Check out "The BlackBerry-to-iPhone Switch: Converts Speak" for details.)

Since then, Android has stormed the scene like a ravenous giant, devouring new subscribers in hordes and stealing buzz from RIM and Apple.

So I've hit the Web yet again to corral another collection of well-informed mobile enthusiasts and experts who'd recently dropped the BlackBerry for Google Android devices.

Every one of the seven sources featured in this story was located on Twitter, and I both respect and trust their opinions, because I read many of them on a daily basis. Every source also has a background using both BlackBerry smartphones and Android devices--and in some cases, others handhelds, as well. Most of them use their smartphones for both work and play.

In other words, these folks know smartphones.

Keep moving for straight talk on why RIM is slowly losing market share to competitor Google, what the company could do to retain and regain users, and the future of RIM's BlackBerry OS, according to former "CrackBerry" addicts. If you're not interested in the specifics, skip right to my conclusions.

Name: John Barsodi

Twitter Handle: @jbarsodi

Age: 31

John Barsodi Twitter Image
John Barsodi's Twitter Image

Bio: IT staffer for an international gaming company who's worked in various messaging-related IT roles, mainly designing and supporting Windows and messaging infrastructures.

Personal website: lopo.com

Smartphone History: Google Nexus One; BlackBerry Storm 9530; BlackBerry Bold 9000, AT&T Tilt2, BlackBerry 8820; and BlackBerry Pearl 8100.

Current smartphone(s) of choice: Motorola DROID X and Apple iPhone.

Why this particular device(s)?

"The screen, the speed of the processor, and the 8MP camera combined with the slim 'chassis' and light weight make [the DROID X] a hard-to-beat smartphone," Barsodi says "Software comes third as the hardware really sealed the deal for me."

User-type (Business v. Consumer): Both. The Droid X is Barsodi's personal device, iPhone is his work handheld.

Does your organization support Android devices? If not, why not? What devices does your org support?

No.

"We are waiting on the vendor we use for iPhone device management and connectivity to support Root detection within their Android client," Barsodi says. "Android poses a unique threat to corporate users since it has a much different application execution and multitasking implementation. For example, the drive by root exploit via Flash on the Sprint EVO."

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

Barsodi says that he uses many Google services, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Voice and Google Docs, so switching to Android, which integrates nicely with many of these services, was a no-brainer.

Also, Barsodi says that he is not confident that RIM can keep up with its competitors in the future, though he does acknowledge BlackBerry's security edge in the enterprise.

Why are so many people switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

"The ability to 'do more' is a big part of it," Barsodi says.

The variety of available Android hardware-configurations and feature-sets are other drivers, according to Barsodi.

"RIM has a habit of rehashing the same device in a slightly different form factor or leaving one feature off Model A, then introducing Model B with the previously missing feature," he says.

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

Barsodi says RIM's recent second quarter 2010 earnings suggest RIM is not yet hurting financially, but that could change quickly if the company doesn't better adapt to the modern smartphone market.

"RIM needs to look at revamping the entire [BlackBerry] OS. Theyre still relying on and tweaking an OS that was designed for one major use case: enterprise e-mail," according to Barsodi.

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

"At this time, I don't miss my BlackBerry," Barsodi says. "I do miss a specific application though: Viigo." (Viigo is an RSS reader and "lifestyle" application. The company behind the app was recently acquired by RIM.)

Barsodi also misses the BlackBerry e-mail interface and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

What does Android do best, in your opinion?

Barsodi appreciates Android's general application "richness," availability and selection.

Why Android and not iOS or webOS, etc?

Barsodi uses an iPhone for work, and he likes the Apple device, but was unwilling to switch from Verizon, his personal wireless carrier, so that ruled out the iPhone as his only device. He also hasn't seen anything about webOS or Palm's Pre that got him truly excited.

"Android was the logical choice given my heavy Google Apps usage," Barsodi says

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

"RIM could offer more variety in form factor and make more progress in revamping or improving their OS," Barsodi says. "New bubbly UI tweaks aren't as important as improving overall performance of the OS and reducing memory leaks."

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Name: John Maguire

Twitter Handle: @Zerog46

Age: 38

Bio: Former police officer, recently retired due to an injury after 11 years of service in a New Jersey small town. Web moderator for Android fan-site MyDROIDWorld.com.

Smartphone History: Maguire's first BlackBerry smartphone was the brick-esque BlackBerry 7200, and he has owned the majority of BlackBerrys available through Verizon Wireless since then. He switched to the original Motorola DROID a few months ago, then the HTC DROID Incredible and now the Motorola DROID X.

Current smartphone(s) of choice: Motorola DROID X

Why this particular device(s)?

Maguire says he's sticking with the DROID X for a while, because he appreciates the device's larger size--both screen size and its overall dimensions. (The DROID X is significantly larger than any modern BlackBerry, even RIM's touch-screen Storm and Torch devices.)

User-type (Business v. Consumer): Mostly consumer, though he uses and has used his personal devices for work purposes.

Does your organization support Android devices?

Yes. Maguire says the small-town police department he formerly worked for mostly supports any device that's compatible with its specific infrastructure.

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

Application choice and quality.

"On Android, there are at least 4 to 5 different browsers to install on your device aside from the stock Google browse," Maguire says.

He's also a big fan of Google's free navigation offering on the Android platform.

Why are so many people switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

Maguire thinks Android's ease of use and the ability to do more with less, i.e., more applications, etc., are the platforms greatest strengths.

And he appreciates Android's selections of mobile games, as well.

"Soon smartphones are going to replace smaller game consoles, like the Nintendo DS or the Sony PSP," Maguire says. "When we go on a road trip my son, who is 9-years-old, doesn't want to bring his PSP with old games, he wants to use my Moto Droid X where he can download a new game if he gets tired of playing the one he's currently playing."

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

Not now. Not yet.

"There might be an issue [in the future] if they don't keep up with everyone else," he says.

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and the trusty, full QWERTY BlackBerry keyboard. BlackBerry is clearly the market-leader when it comes to security as well, according to Maguire.

What does Android do best, in your opinion?

Maguire appreciates Android's "openness" and the platform's tight integration with Google's various Web services.

"I can root my device--jailbreak, hack, etc.--and basically put whatever I want on it," he says.

Why Android and not iOS or webOS, etc?

AT&T's iPhone exclusivity contract meant no iPhone for Maguire, since he's unwilling to switch from Verizon. And the current momentum of Android is very exciting to him, since it will likely lead to more and more quality developers creating new and innovative applications for the platform, Maguire says.

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

Not much, Maguire says. Right now, he has no regrets at all about leaving BlackBerry, and he's very excited about the future of Android.

"I can't wait to see what Google brings in the future, and I am looking forward to the tablets running Android," Maguire says.

Name: Kai Armstrong

Twitter Handle: @phikai

Age: 25

Kai Armstrong's Twitter Avatar
Kai Armstrong's Twitter Image

Bio: Library-systems and technology worker in higher education and student, who's a computer geek as well as a software developer. Armstrong used to create BlackBerry applications for EDL Industries (http://edlindustries.com), back when he used a RIM smartphone.

Personal Website: KaiArmstrong.com

Smartphone History: Armstrong's first BlackBerry device was the Storm 9530 on Verizon, which he used for more than a year before switching to the HTC DROID Incredible.

Current smartphone(s) of choice: HTC DROID Incredible.

Why this particular device(s)?

"At that time, the Incredible was the top of the line Android device on the [Verizon] network," Armstrong says.

User-type (Business v. Consumer): Mostly consumer, though he does access corporate resources via DROID Incredible.

Does your organization support Android devices?

Yes, Armstrong's organization supports "just about any device you'd like," he says.

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

Armstrong's entire experience with the BlackBerry Storm left him feeling very unsatisfied.

"The iPhone was pretty much the standard at the time, and following the information about the BlackBerry Storm up until launch, it seemed like it was certainly going to compete," Armstrong says. "However...it just didn't live up to its pre-launch hype. The device was slow, the browser unusable, and the developer community didn't bond around the device with applications. It wasn't the experience I was looking for."

Why are so many people switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

"One of the biggest gripes I had with my [BlackBerry Storm] 9530 was that I was actually scared to open links that people would tweet on Twitter for fear of the BlackBerry Browser just crashing or the phone stopping."

Armstrong calls the BlackBerry browser the platform's "worst feature."

He also thinks a lack of developer support, at least to the extent that developers are embracing Android and iOS, is hurting BlackBerry.

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

Armstrong thinks RIM is in trouble in the consumer space, but that the company still has an advantage in the enterprise, due to BlackBerry security and stability.

"[I]n several more years when other mobile platforms have built the back-end infrastructure necessary to keep corporations and government agencies 'happy' about allowing [non-BlackBerry devices] on their networks, RIM will be in trouble," Armstrong predicts.

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

Armstrong misses the colored LED notifier found on all BlackBerry smartphones, which lets you know when messages are waiting for you.

"Other than that, I don't miss a thing," he says.

What does Android do best, in your opinion?

"Android's greatest quality to someone like myself is that ability to tinker," Armstrong says. "There are custom ROMs, custom Kernels, and all kinds of things that you can tweak and play with at a much deeper level than a settings menu. I think this type of open architecture/platform is one of its greatest features. "

Why Android and not iOS or webOS, etc?

"I don't like Apple products or their 'closed' eco-system, and WebOS still hasn't managed to do anything impressive," Armstrong says. "That leaves Android and RIM and after my previous BlackBerry experience, Android was certainly the way for me to move."

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

"Provide a large black duffel bag of non-sequential unmarked US denomination cash," Armstrong jokes.

He's not planning on switching back to BlackBerry anytime soon.

Name: Kelly Murphy

Twitter Handle: @ke11

Age: 36

Bio: Telecommunications worker who's been in the industry for 13 years; small-business owner; and technology/clothing-design blogger.

Personal websites: SauceWear.com; The SauceReport.com; and TeeGazette.com.

Smartphone History: First BlackBerry was an 8830 World Phone, followed by the BlackBerry Storm 9530, BlackBerry Tour and now the BlackBerry Curve 8530. Murphy has also used the original Motorola DROID, and she currently carries two devices: The Curve 8530 and the HTC DROID Incredible.

Current device of choice: HTC Droid Incredible

Why this particular device(s)?

Murphy says she "loves" the Android interface on the Incredible, as well as the ability to "completely customize" it.

Android is also "not being held back by infrequent updates," Murphy says, knocking RIM and/or wireless carriers' slow release of new BlackBerry OS updates.

User-type (Business v. Consumer):

Murphy's a consumer user in that she pays for her own devices, and doesn't connect to any corporate resources. However, she also operates her own business and ensures her websites are all up and running using her various smartphones.

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

"I felt as though BlackBerry kind of stalled," as far as platform technology goes, Murphy says. "I needed something that was pushing forward and didn't resist change. Android, to me, offered me this and more."

Why do you think so many people are switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

The BlackBerry interface feels stale, Murphy says. RIM's not evolving quickly enough, and she has little confidence that it will in the near future, she says.

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

Yes, in the consumer market, she says.

"[Consumers] are leaving in droves, but at the same time there are many organizations that aren't going to switch," Murphy says.

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

Murphy says BlackBerry just feels more secure, and she appreciates that. She trusts Android when using Google services, like Gmail, Google Calendar, etc., but isn't confident that Android is secure enough for use with other Web services.

The BlackBerry e-mail client is also second to none, Murphy says.

What does Android do best, in your opinion?

Android is just more fun, Murphy says.

"[Y]ou can customize everything, you'll always have gaming, a great browser, uniformity between your calendar, email, contacts, etc through the Google interface," according to Murphy.

Why Android and not iOS or webOS, etc?

Murphy says she's not at all a fan of webOS or the associated device selection, since she doesn't like the basic UI. But she does have her eye on the iPhone.

"If Verizon gets [the iPhone], I'll be buying one," Murphy says. But she's unwilling to leave Verizon for the device.

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

Murphy hasn't abandoned BlackBerry completely; she's still using a BlackBerry Curve 8530, but much prefers her HTC DROID Incredible.

Releasing more frequent OS updates would help draw her allegiance back to RIM, Murphy says.

"Don't hold updates hostage," Murphy says. "Get that new technology out!"

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Name: Craig Gormley

Twitter handle: @cgormley

Age: 39

Craig Gormley's Twitter Image
Craig Gormley's Twitter Image

Bio: Human resources management (HRM) consultant with The Educe Group who has been in the e-learning and HRM industry for more than 9 years. Gormley travels frequently and sees his smartphone as an essential business tool.

Smartphone History: Gormley's first BlackBerry was a Curve 8330, which he replaced with a BlackBerry Storm2 9550 following roughly a year and a half of use. After just six months with the Storm2, Gormley picked up an HTC DROID Incredible and hasn't looked back since.

Current device(s) of choice: HTC DROID Incredible

Why this particular device?

"From the work point of view, it has the best feature set for completing my job when I am on the go," Gormley says.

He lists application multitasking, Wi-Fi tethering, a functional e-mail client and Office support for Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. as the device features most important to him.

And "[f]rom a personal point of view, I love to tinker with my phones." Gormley says. "Having the ability to customize how your phone runs is a big advantage in my book."

User-type (Business v. Consumer):

Both. Gormley's DROID Incredible is his personal phone in that he purchased it himself. But his organization foots the service bill and he's connected to a variety of corporate resources via Incredible.

Does your organization support Android devices?

Yes.

"[During] the last year the standard phone everyone had in the company was a BlackBerry," Gormley says. "Now half of company has either an Android phone or iPhone."

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

Gormley could no longer deal with the BlackBerry Browser, which just wouldn't load all the websites he needs to do his job.

"It became increasingly frustrating not being able to access certain client websites because of limitations of my Blackberry. The more I heard about the advances the Android platform had made e-mail wise, especially a reliable push connection with Exchange, and the flexibility to hit 99% of my client websites, it became a no-brainer to switch."

Why are so many people switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

"I think people view the Blackberry OS as an aged platform, even the new BlackBerry 6 [OS]," Gormley says. "It's like [RIM is] putting band-aids on a 10 inch cut when it really calls for major surgery with stitches. "

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

"[A]s long as RIM remains the leader in the corporate market place [the company] should be okay for a while," Gormley says. "But RIM cannot afford many more dud phones and BlackBerry 6 needs to be something special."

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

Gormley says he has no regrets about leaving BlackBerry, though he says BlackBerry has an impressive and valuable set of keyboard shortcuts. RIM also has a great system for profiles and notifications, according to Gormley.

What does Android do best?

Gormley appreciates Android's Web browsing features, multitasking, navigation and the seamless integration with Google services

Why Android and not iOS or webOS etc?

Gormley almost went with webOS before choosing Android, but he says he could tell Palm was in trouble and didn't think betting on that company would prove to be wise.

The iPhone isn't an option because of AT&T's "terrible" coverage where he lives and works, he says.

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

Gormley's not against going BlackBerry once again, but RIM hasn't shown him that BlackBerry can compete with Android.

"Android just meets all my needs right now," he says.

Name: Jared DiPane

Twitter Handle: @drm2blv

Age: 23

Bio: Geek Squad Service Center supervisor and mobile blogger for both CrackBerry.com and AndroidCentral.com.

Smartphone History: In the past year alone, DiPane used a BlackBerry Storm 9530, BlackBerry Curve 8330, BlackBerry Tour 9630, BlackBerry Storm2 9550, a Droid Eris and other devices.

Current Smartphone(s) of Choice: Motorola DROID and BlackBerry Bold 9650

Why this particular device(s)?

"This combination [of smartphones] fits my every need: something to easily keep in contact with nearly anyone while on the go (BlackBerry); and something to have fun with, play games, use widgets, tinker with system settings (DROID)," DiPane says.

User-type (Business v. Consumer): Consumer

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

DiPane says he simply got bored of his BlackBerry and wanted a change. Since he wasn't particularly excited about the BlackBerry devices expected to become available through Verizon, his wireless carrier of choice, he decided to give Android a go. Four months later, he picked up another BlackBerry--the Bold 9650--because he missed it, but is still hanging onto his DROID.

Why are so many people switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

Two reasons: Android's "openness" and customization options; and the fact that Android is the "It Platform" right now.

"I honestly think that some people are switching because their friends are, and now it is 'the cool thing to do'," DiPane says.

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

Not really, DiPane says.

"I have personally been in or around [wireless] stores and still see how popular BlackBerry devices are by how many [people] walk out activated in just the time that I am there," he says.

DiPane also thinks BlackBerry 6, RIM's new OS, is a big step in the right direction and is optimistic about RIM's future.

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

"The Android OS it is still rough around the edges, and having come from a rather polished [BlackBerry] OS, the transition was a bit tough," DiPane says. "I missed the way emails were handled so well and I also missed all my BBM friends."

What does Android do best, in your opinion?

DiPane says he really appreciates the fact that he doesn't have to reboot his Android devices after every application update, which is often the case with BlackBerry devices.

Why Android and not iOS or webOS, etc?

DiPane's decision to go Android had a lot to do with the fact that he's a Verizon customer, and isn't willing to switch to another carrier for a webOS or iOS device. He simply wasn't interested any of the webOS offerings via Verizon and AT&T is the exclusive iPhone carrier in the United States.

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

DiPane hasn't abandoned BlackBerry, nor does he plan to. But he does offer constructive criticism:

"I would like to see RIM market BlackBerry applications a little more," he says. "I feel as though many think that there is no benefit to developing for the BlackBerry platform so a lot of the attention is placed on other platforms."

Name: Eric Tonn

Twitter Handle: @edtonn

Age: 23

Eric Tonn's Twitter Image
Eric Tonn's Twitter Image

Bio: Commercial insurance worker and gadget geek. Gormley says his company's IT staffers often defer Blackberry related questions and issues to him.

Smartphone History: BlackBerry Pearl 8100; BlackBerry Bold 9000; BlackBerry Bold 9700; BlackBerry Curve 8330; BlackBerry Tour 9630; and Samsung Captivate.

Current Smartphone(s) of Choice: AT&T Samsung Captivate (personal), Verizon BlackBerry Tour 9630 (work)

Why this particular device(s)?

Tonn says he wasn't ready to leave BlackBerry by the wayside, but did want to try a device that was "decidedly not a BlackBerry." At that time, he saw the Samsung Captivate as the best AT&T Android offering.

User-type (Business v. Consumer): Both. Tonn's BlackBerry Tour was provided by his employer. His Samsung Captivate is a personal device.

Catalyst for the Switch, i.e., why leave BlackBerry?

Tonn's general frustration with the BlackBerry platform led him to investigate other options.

"As a Mac user, I had several fights over contacts sync/deletion/duplication," Tonn says. "I got to the point where I was expending as much effort just keeping the BlackBerry running smoothly and dependably as I could expend actually enhancing (rooting, adding custom ROMs, etc) an Android phone."

Why are so many people switching from BlackBerry to other mobile platforms?

"The problem I see with BlackBerry is, simply put, a hardware issue," Tonn says. "With the introduction of BlackBerry 6, the software is better than in the past, but RIM's insistence on using small, low-resolution screens and less-than-state-of-the-art processor speeds, combined with the relative scarcity of apps, gives BlackBerry users the feeling--at least, it gave me the feeling--that they are behind the curve and playing catch-up."

Is RIM "in trouble" because of the large number of BlackBerry users switching to other platforms?

Yes, he says.

"The mixed response to BlackBerry 6 and the Torch seems to indicate that RIM is still mostly focused on its core business customers," Tonn says. "Playing it safe appeases users of the BES--where consistency is key--but bores the personal-use customers. The consumers are already voicing their preferences, and as Apple and Google up the security ante on their platforms, RIM's core competency will come under fire soon as well."

What do you miss most about BlackBerry?

Impressive battery life and RIM's "famously strong phone antennas," Tonn says.

What does Android do best, in your opinion?

The open source nature of the platform. And the ability to customize, whether after hacking or while using stock software, is a huge plus for Android, Tonn says.

Why Android and not iOS or webOS, etc?

Tonn says he never seriously considered webOS, since he was leery of the recent purchase of Palm by HP and the future of the software.

"The ability to customize--I wanted my phone to be a hobby, as well--whether after hacking or while using stock software, was a huge plus for Android," Tonn says.

What could RIM do to get you to switch back to BlackBerry?

Tonn has no regrets about leaving BlackBerry. But bigger screens, faster processors and more applications would go a long way to grab his attention once again.

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Al at ASacco@CIO.com.

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