by Al Sacco

Tech “Futurist” Will.i.am Talks BlackBerry, iPhone and the Next-Gen Mobile User

Opinion
Apr 29, 2010
MobileSmall and Medium Business

CIO.com's Al Sacco sat down with hip hop artist, BlackBerry spokesman and "CrackBerry" addict Will.i.am at RIM's 2010 WES.

You’ve probably heard of the man called Will.i.am.

The Blackeyed Peas front man, DJ, songwriter, businessman, Research In Motion (RIM) spokesman, BlackBerry enthusiast and technology “futurist” can be regularly heard on popular radio stations across the country and seen in television commercials as well as on the big screen in movies like the recent hit “Date Night” with Tina Fay and Steve Carell.

Will.i.am on stage at RIM's 2010 WES
Will.i.am on stage at RIM’s 2010 WES

As a BlackBerry spokesman, Will.i.am was in attendance at RIM’s ninth annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) this week in Orlando, Fla. In addition to DJing at the WES party, Will.i.am also spoke during two separate keynote sessions. And afterward he sat down with CIO.com’s Al Sacco for a quick chat about BlackBerry, why he wouldn’t use an iPhone even if he weren’t a paid RIM spokesman—RIM is also sponsoring the Blackeyed Peas’ current world tour—the next-generation of mobile users and his work/life balance, or lack thereof.

Keep moving for specifics—and a look at the man’s diamond-encrusted BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone.

Will.i.am on BlackBerry

The BlackBerry smartphone is the ultimate communication tool, according to Will.i.am. Whether it’s making phone calls, texting, sending e-mail or engaging fans on Twitter, the BlackBerry is Will.i.am’s “life-line.”

But keeping in touch is just the start of how he uses his BlackBerry. Will.i.am literally writes songs on his device using the BlackBerry MemoPad app, sends himself reminders about ideas he may have had and records quick verses and “beats” via the BlackBerry voice-note recorder—he even stopped mid-conversation to record a few lines of potential song-lyrics and played back earlier ideas to demonstrate what kinds of things he digitally captures.

Will.i.am also frequently employs the BlackBerry DipDive social networking application–he helped to create DipDive–to share ideas and music with fans and locate various forms of online entertainment.

And he says he’s been using a BlackBerry “since the very first one” became available.

“I was using a BlackBerry before any of this,” Will.i.am says while looking around backstage at WES.

Will.i.am on the iPhone

When asked if he uses any other mobile devices, Will.i.am shakes his head a bit and says “a computer.” At the mention of the word “iPhone,” he smirks and says no way.

“iPhone’s a toy,” Will.i.am says.

As would be expected from a BlackBerry spokesman, Will.i.am didn’t have many good things to express about Apple’s hugely-popular smartphone, though he did say he thinks mobile applications are the iPhone’s real strength compared to the BlackBerry’s mastery of messaging.

If he wanted a device for applications, he says he might go with an iPhone, but as is, he doesn’t have time to “play” with apps. In fact, Will.i.am has almost no third-party applications on his BlackBerry Bold 9700, besides DipDive.

His perception is clearly that the BlackBerry is for busy people who need various means of instant communication with peers and colleagues, while the iPhone is meant for fun. (This largely matches up with the views expressed in my recent examination of why BlackBerry users switch to iPhones.)

Will.i.am on the Next-Gen Mobile User

During a WES panel discussion, Will.i.am addressed a point raised about the coming generation of mobile users, today’s adolescents and teens, having “very little patience” since they’re so used to the modern idea of always-on connectivity and

the instant gratification the Internet offers.

Will.i.am doesn’t see the next-gen mobile users as impatient. Rather, he thinks this idea comes from the fact that young, tech-savvy people today have access to tools like the BlackBerry and Twitter that let them cut out some of the mundane “doo-doo” associated with modern life. So while some people may see the need for instant gratification via the Web as a lack of patience, Will.i.am says it could also be viewed as the ability to streamline information consumption.

Will.i.am on stage at RIM's 2010 WES
Will.i.am’s diamond-encrusted BlackBerry Bold 9700

As for what effect the next generation of mobile users will have on the workforce, Will.i.am says their ability to embrace new technologies and employ them in effective ways could really change and enhance the way workers do business and communicate.

“The workplace is a ‘service’,” Will.i.am says. When these young people enter the corporate world, that service could drastically improve because of their ability to instantly communicate without reservation with people of different genders, race, nationality, etc.

“All these tools [smartphones, social networks] are for tomorrow,” he says. “A lot of things we experience today, heartache, pain, division, these tools could bring us, as a species, toward where we need to go.”

Will.i.am on Work/Life Balance

As a recording artist and student of popular culture, Will.i.am says he “goes out” almost every night, meaning he travels to clubs, live performances and other shows “to see what the kids are doing.”

When asked how he keeps a work/life balance, or whether or not he “unplugs” at all, Will.i.am looks confused and asks “What’s work/life balance?”

“I’m a creative person,” Will.i.am says. “And I need constant stimulation.”

He says he does occasionally put his BlackBerry smartphone away for a couple of hours at a time, but he then backtracks and implies that even when his device is “away” it’s still within reach.

So for this world-famous businessman, recording artist and futurist, work/life balance may be a novel notion, but it’s not one that he has time for—and that’s just fine with Will.i.am.

For more CIO.com coverage of RIM’s ninth annual WES, read “BlackBerry Bold 9650, Pearl 9100 Finally Get Official at WES 2010” and “RIM Exec on Mobile Malware and The Future of BlackBerry Security.”

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