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Blackberry, HTC and Sprint Target Apple iPhone

The iPhone is finally patched, or at least we think so, possibly, we’re pretty sure… OK, we wouldn’t bet our lives on it. The 3G iPhone, surrounded by complaints and lawsuits, was hardly Apple’s best effort. But even so, it remains one of the most popular phone products ever created. It amazes me that the phone manufacturers weren’t able to come up with truly competitive products. That is until now.

Of course, if we actually ask a numbers firm, we find out that the iPhone (despite all the hype) is still a niche player.

Both the Samsung Instinct and LG Dare came very close, but both had their own unique issues. I do know several people who have the Instinct and swear by it, and I understand its sales numbers would have set records for its class if the iPhone hadn’t already broken those records months ago.

But four phones are now ramping to market that have enough advantages over the iPhone to actually give it a run for the money. The HTC Touch Diamond and soon to arrive Pro, as offered from Sprint, and the new Blackberry Bold and Storm . What makes the Blackberry products really interesting is the recent partnership with Slacker, arguably the best music service for people who don’t like to work at managing their music or paying for lots of tracks. And, based on iPod refresh rates (most people load new music very rarely,) that may be most of us.

Sprint HTC Touch Diamond

I’ve been using the unlocked version of the HTC Touch Diamond on and off for some time now. It is a great little phone: Smaller than the iPhone and different enough so that people come up and ask about it; I’ve been impressed with how nicely it works. I was actually able to leave my camera at home and use it on one of my trips, though I did miss having a flash in one instance. 

The big problem though is that the battery life was close to iPhone’s. In another words, if you did anything but use it just as a phone, there was a good chance it would be dead before your day was over with. The Diamond has a really addictive game on it, but play that game for an hour or so, and the phone would be running on vapors.

Sprint specified twice the battery for their version of the phone, and this makes all the difference in the world. I’m all for thin, but while the Sprint version is more like a traditional candy bar phone in terms of dimensions (a little thicker than the new iPhone but much smaller in the other dimensions,) I’d rather have a thicker phone than a thin brick. 

With me unlocked Diamond you don’t get any services, and the Sprint music and video services are actually rather nice. It’s not really iTunes, but it works more like a portable TV. Also, for an extra fee, you can use the Sprint phone as a high speed wireless modem for your PC, and this is really handy. Right now, AT&T isn’t letting people do the same thing with their iPhones, (and given how saturated their network already is, that is probably for good reason.)

I still miss having a keyboard and a camera flash, though, which is why my dream phone from HTC is still the new Touch Pro coming from Sprint in a few weeks. I just started using this new Sprint version, and like it much better than the old unlocked phone so far.

RIM Blackberry Storm with Slacker

RIM has nearly as loyal a following as Apple, and has actually gained market share along with Apple during the first year of the iPhone. Few Blackberry users apparently moved to the iPhone, and they got more new ones than they lost by a significant margin. This is because, of all of the smartphones on the market, businesses like the Blackberry best, and businesses buy more smartphones because of the high cost of the related services, than individuals do.

But Blackberry’s sucked when it came to music, didn’t have a good entertainment experience, and their phones just weren’t in Apple’s league when it came to how they looked either. Well, that was then, and now RIM is bringing to market their Blackberry Bold and Storm, both of which are distinctly RIM in terms of user experience and nearly Apple quality on appearance.

RIM does a better job with email, and for those who really like music, may have a better solution than iTunes with the recent announcement of a partnership with Slacker. I’ve used Slacker for some time now on the company’s own poorly designed hardware, and for me, it is vastly better than iTunes or any of the traditional services because I never have to manage my music anymore; it’s always fresh. Slacker gives you your own custom radio station, either free with commercials, or for with a nominal fee with no commercials.

Given that most folks who have iPhones and iPods rarely refresh their music, I think they would actually find Slacker better, if it weren’t for the impression that iTunes must be best.

Now couple this with the new RIM products and traditional RIM services, add a much greater willingness for your company to reimburse you for phone charges, and you have something that people who don’t have an iPhone might actually prefer.

Wrapping Up

There are a lot of great alternatives to the iPhone coming to market in the fourth quarter. Last year, people just didn’t get the services aspect of the iPhone. Now people are getting it, though the Apple Applications Store is still an unmatched advantage, with Google’s soon-to-arrive Android phone the most likely to close that gap first.

You now have a number of choices of both phones and carriers. AT&T isn’t the best, and if you blend the two, as you should, you may find one of these new phones are vastly better than the iPhone for you. They are worth checking out as most will hit store shelves over the next few weeks. Good hunting!

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Rob Enderle
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rob is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. Before…
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