Click to Start – Do You Berry?

Ok, it’s official, I’m on crack. I’m addicted. My need for a fix gets greater each minute that passes, and I’m increasingly caving to the impulse whenever it calls me. No, I’m not smoking crack cocaine, I’m checking my email.

I’ve recently become the proud owner of a Blackberry. A device so addictive that some have dubbed it the ‘crackberry’. It’s blue, not much larger than a pack of cigarettes, and the single most cool toy I’ve ever owned.

Blackberries were launched in the USA a few years ago, but have only recently become available in Australia. A Blackberry is a mobile phone, organiser, and ‘always on email’ device. The organiser includes the usual diary, contact book, task list, note pad and other gadgets – a continuation of the convergence of mobile phones and handheld electronic organisers; why carry two devices when one will suffice?

What sets the Blackberry apart is its email functionality. It includes a live email system. Send me an email, and it arrives on my Blackberry straight away, via my Blackberry email account, which can be configured to check and relay up to 10 standard email accounts. So now both my work and personal email addresses feed through to the Blackberry, and as long as I’m in an area with GSM mobile phone coverage, I see the email immediately.

If I’m travelling overseas, and have activated global roaming with Telstra, the Blackberry functions the same whatever country I am in.

I can even check sales on my company’s online publications because the Blackberry includes a web browser. We’ve set up private web pages displaying recent sales data, so in the middle of the night I can lean over to the bedside table and see how the bank account is fairing.

There is a common inbox, combining my email, voice mails, SMS messages – and a record of outgoing messages, all grouped by date, so I can monitor the progression of my day. The diary pops up reminders of meetings and tasks, and the address book inter-locks with the email and messaging system so sending an email, SMS or making a call can all be done at the push of a button after selecting a person’s name. And then when I’m back at my desk, the Blackberry connects to my computer and re-synchronises the data with my copy of Outlook – all the while recharging the battery via the same cable (no need for a separate battery charger).

Of course Blackberries are not the only game in town. You can achieve similar functionality using the latest generation of Windows-powered mobile phones, which essentially combine a mobile phone with a Windows based operating system – they even allow you to work in Microsoft Word and Excel, albeit on a tiny screen. And with the advent of the G3 high speed mobile phone network (the one which lets you make video calls), you can watch streaming movies and listen to audio tracks.

The impact of mobile devices such as the Blackberries is profound on both serious and less serious levels. For example, after the September 11 attacks in America, Blackberries gained notoriety in Washington when they were unaffected after normal mobile phones were rendered useless by overloaded mobile networks. Government officials were able to continue to communicate during a period of emergency because the Blackberry used a different data network to that of normal mobiles.

And on a lighter note, the Blackberry has become the dating tool du jour amongst congressional workers in the US capital, after the government issued them even to junior staffers, so work could continue day and night. The unforeseen consequence was the staffers using them to swap witty messages with potential love interests around the clock. It’s even reported they use their Blackberries to flirt discreetly in meetings. ‘Berry’ has become a verb. We ‘Berry’ someone, we sit in a meeting ‘Berrying’.

So why is all this important? Because the Blackberry has several overwhelming advantages over its Windows powered convergent mobile phone cousins. A three year old can use it; there’s no battling with complex menus; it doesn’t crash every five minutes; battery time is phenomenal (I get 4 or 5 days of normal use between charges); and cost wise it’s not too terrible because you can buy it on a plan just like a mobile. The handsets retail for around $1,000, but you can pay it off in instalments. In any case, given the normal rapid fall in price of any mass produced electronic device, the Blackberry will be half that price in a year or two.

Flash Gordon and Dick Tracey have finally arrived. A universal communicator, useable pretty much anywhere in the world, combining all the elements of your electronic life in one neat package, at a price which many can now afford. The Telstra sales representative who sold me my Blackberry had just also sold one to a woman who was off travelling through Africa, and was concerned about email access. With a Blackberry in her handbag, it didn’t matter about dialling up to the net in remote areas; lugging a laptop and cables; or finding an Internet Café. As long as she was within a mobile phone coverage area – which these days does include most third world countries – she could always be in touch with home and office.

Of course addiction is dangerous. I found myself Berrying in the cinema the other day, answering emails while watching the new Harry Potter movie with my children. My addiction is advance warning of the way in which people will communicate and interact in the future – and I mean the near future, not in ten years. Mobile phones have almost reached saturation point in Australia, and true to form we are constantly updating to the latest and greatest technology.

This is communication for the 21st century – immediate, constant and integrated with our personal and professional lives, again furthering the blur between work and home. These are the tools we need to use to capture someone’s attention, to interact with them, to promote our cause to them, to market our new show, exhibition or product. Blackberries have found a foothold amongst a desirable market segment – the young professionals, whose law, finance and accounting firms are implementing enterprise Blackberry solutions. They are young, educated, financially prosperous, technologically savvy – and they Berry.