To talk or to text? ? That is the question

The choice between the dominant BlackBerry and Treo models is one that hinges on the priorities of the user.

Wireless Technology

August 19, 2004|By Vikas Bajaj | Vikas Bajaj,THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Andy Lombard and Sid Leever are the yin and yang of the wireless e-mail generation.

Lombard, chief executive officer of a Dallas telecom company, is a hard-charging corporate type for whom e-mail is a must. Leever, a principal at an Irving, Calif., pre-media and creative services firm, needs to see his e-mail frequently, but not incessantly.

Lombard carries a BlackBerry phone from Research in Motion Ltd. Leever has a Treo 600 from palmOne Inc.

Even as manufacturers stumble over themselves to introduce smart phones, the market for devices that artfully handle e-mail boils down to these two devices, experts and users say. Both have amassed followings that are rapidly growing.

There is no one else out there, said Jack Gold, an analyst with Meta Group. Thats the bottom line.

That wont be true much longer with technology titans Microsoft Corp., Nokia and Motorola Inc. eager to get a piece of the growing market segment. But for now, the world is divided into Treo and BlackBerry users two groups that have similar aims, but different priorities.

Phone first

Treo users are drawn to the 600 by its clean, streamlined design. They note that the thumb-operated keyboard and screen are well-proportioned and a big improvement over the Treo 300. They retrieve and send e-mail messages, but mostly they talk on the devices.

To me, this thing was a phone first, said Leever, who is a founder of C3 Premedia Solutions. If I am going to write a long e-mail, I open up my laptop. To me, this is to stay in touch with the customers so I can get their e-mail and then write a two-sentence response.

The Treo, which Leever uses on the Sprint PCS network, is his primary means of communication because he travels frequently he estimates he spends 100 to 120 nights a year in hotel rooms. A software application, SnapperMail, sits on his Treo and fetches his e-mail, 12 messages at a time, from his server periodically through the day.

Constant contact

Its a setup that wouldnt work for Lombard, who has grown reliant upon the BlackBerrys ability to stay in constant synchronization with his Microsoft Outlook Inbox, calendar and contacts back at his desk.

My personal productivity, with the device, has increased tenfold, said Lombard, chief executive of Airband Communications Inc. When I am traveling or out of office, I am real-time updated with everything. When I get back into the office, I dont have to blast through e-mail.

Lombard offers a mixed review of the Treo. The screen was too small. The keyboard was too small, and I thought the phone form factor was about the best I have ever seen.

He acknowledges that the boxy BlackBerry, which he uses on the AT&T Wireless network, is not that appealing as a phone, but he says it works acceptably. Leever had the same complaint about the RIM device, which he said was still a little large.

Gold said the BlackBerry, which has been around longer, has established a niche in the corporate world because RIM sells companies a sophisticated server that connects to their internal networks. Law firms, consulting groups and large corporations that sign up for the service often wont allow their employees to use rival devices such as the Treo.

By contrast, palmOne, which comes out of the Palm handheld world, makes its living by selling devices and largely leaves it to its cell phone partners and third parties to come up with the rest, Gold said. This takes the Treo more appealing to small businesses and consumers who cant afford the cost or complexity of a server.

Broader field

RIM sold 480,000 BlackBerry devices in the three months ended May 29, a total that includes e-mail-only devices in addition to phone models. And palmOne sold 151,000 Treos in the three months ended May 28.

But neither of these dynamics is likely to last. Microsoft is getting into the business by aggressively building wireless e-mail capabilities into its new Exchange server, and Nokia and palmOne have said they will soon license RIMs software.

This is going to continue to be a battle, Gold said. And its not going to be a battle just between BlackBerry and Treo.

That should be a boon for consumers and corporate users.

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