My First Week as a Mac User

The end of 2014 and 2015 have brought with them lots of changes for me. In November I got my first iPhone and, last week, I decided to take the plunge and get my first Mac. I decided upon the mid-2014 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display with 256GB storage.

I’ve been a Windows user for years. For a period of time, I even considered myself a “Windows fan,” but, really, that was because I never really took the time to get to know OS X and the Mac environment. I loved the design and sleekness of MacBooks and tried so hard to find a Windows equivalent, but with no luck. When I changed my major to computer science a couple of years ago, I decided that the advantages of having a Mac were worth the of the machine . Most of my peers had one and they were very happy with theirs. I had resolved to get a Mac long before I even considered an iPhone as my smartphone of choice. Of course, the fact that I already had an iPhone makes the MacBook all the more alluring and creates a type of synergy unique in mobile and desktop computing.

So, after a week of having one, here are my initial thoughts and a round-up of my favourite apps/programs so far.

What I like – Hardware:

General Notebook – I’m not necessarily talking about specs here, but just the way the notebook feels while I’m using it. It’s very well-built and isn’t as heavy as I thought it would be. Ventilation seems to work well as I don’t really hear any fans. The keyboard is great. The Retina Display is gorgeous. Really, there’s nothing about the Mac’s hardware that I’m missing.

Multi-touch Gestures – I’m very impressed with the multi-touch gestures on Apple’s trackpad. Every gesture works well almost every time, and most are very natural. For instance, pinch-to-zoom in the web browser works just like a smartphone’s touch gesture. Pinching brings up Launchpad (the list of all installed programs) and a four-finger swipe up brings up Mission Control (all open programs). These are just a few of many but the implementation here is near-flawless.

What I Don’t Like – Hardware:

Wrist positioning – Perhaps I’m just grasping at straws here, but the only real gripe I have with this MacBook is that when I type in a natural position, the edge of the computer feels a bit sharp on my wrist. I have tiny wrists so I don’t know if that’s a factor but I can feel it when I type. Not a huge deal, but one nonetheless.

A Speck SmartShell encases my MacBook Pro

A Speck SmartShell encases my MacBook Pro

What I Like – Software:

OS X 10.10 Yosemite – As Temple students, we have access to both Windows machines and Macs for use around campus. When I decided to get a Mac, I maximized the amount of time I spent using one. Therefore, the transition from Windows to Mac wasn’t terribly bad for me. I’ve gotten used to the Dock and the Menu Bar at the top. Having my “X” button in the top-left vs top-right on Windows took a bit of adjusting, but that didn’t take long to get used to either. Finder is very similar to File Explorer on Windows and the two work identically. I also like just using the Terminal and working from the Command Line, from where I can remotely access my school projects through ssh.

What I Don’t Like – Software:

Mac App Store – Really, this is the only point of contention on the software side of things. The Mac App Store is nothing like its iOS counterpart. It’s filled with third-party substitutes for common smartphone apps and very few of the most notable developers have dedicated Mac apps. On a computer, this isn’t really a big deal, but to have a prominent store so devoid of apps is hard to look at.

What Apps and Software I’m using So Far (and Liking):

Safari – Just a tad embarassed to say it, but I’m actually enjoying Safari on my Mac. My experience so far has been a fast and fluid browsing experience. I haven’t heard too many great things about Google Chrome on Mac OS so I’m just a bit apprehensive to install and use it. In my opinion, Apple’s built a great browser in Safari and it does everything I need it to do quickly.

Safari syncing on my iPhone

Safari syncing on my iPhone

Mail, Contacts, Calendar – Mail works as well as I could ask. All my emails come in around the same time as they come in on my phone and I get a notification in Notification Center. It just works. Calender and Contacts work in much the same way and everything was brought over from my phone to my computer.

iTunes – I didn’t use iTunes much on my Windows laptop but I’ve started using it more now that I have a system on which it works well. It helps me manage my iPhone but, more importantly, I have access to all the music I’ve ever purchased through the service and that’s all I really need.

Twitter – I didn’t even know there was a Twitter app for Mac until after I tried TweetDeck. For me, TweetDeck is a bit much. It takes up most of the screen and I don’t need all of the features TweetDeck offers, such as the activity of those I follow. Twitter is a good, minimalist app and offers integration with the Menu Bar that adds just a splash of extra convenience.

Pages – I actually had Microsoft Office installed on my Mac through my family’s Office 365 subscription. But when I saw that it actually installed around 11 programs, most of which I won’t even use, I decided to uninstall them and try Apple’s native offerings (and 256GB can fill up quickly). Pages is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word and, so far, it’s more than satisfactory for my needs. I’ve enjoyed using it and, actually, I’m beginning to prefer it to MS applications on Mac OS.

Desk – Desk is a very minimalist blogging app for Mac. It’s a bit pricey at $30, but I decided to give it a try and, so far, I’m quite happy. It lets me store my drafts locally and publish to my WordPress or Tumblr sites when I’m ready. There are lots of in-text options and makes adding media to my writing very easy. So far, it’s been well-worth it.

Day One – 2015 brought with it a new resolution for me; to write more. Day One is a journaling application that allows me to add photos, location, weather, etc. It has an iPhone app and the two sync seamlessly. The constant reminds on my Mac compel me to write in it almost every day.

OneDriveDropbox, Google Drive – With 15GB on Google Drive, 15GB on Dropbox, 20GB on iCloud, and about 1TB on OneDrive, I’m covered as far as cloud storage is concerned. Each of those services has different data stored on them so I do need all of them.

Xcode – Apple’s iOS and Mac OS application IDE. I haven’t had much of a chance to use it yet, but learning Swift is a goal of mine and one I intend to pursue. Connecting my iPhone also automatically opens up Developer Mode options on my iPhone, which is great because it eliminates having to use a simulator.

Netbeans, Android Studio, MySQLWorkbench – Netbeans and MySQLWorkbench are specifically applications I use for school. Most programming assignments are done in Java and it’s preferred that we use Netbeans as opposed to Eclipse. MySQLWorkbench is a great tool for remote web development work (also done for school). I also have a class on Android app development this semester so Android Studio (Google’s IDE for Android development) so it will be a program used much during an long after this semester ends.

Continuity – This is one of Apple’s most powerful features. When a Mac and iOS device are signed in with the same Apple ID and are on the same wireless network, SMS and

Texts on my iPhone and my Mac Messages app

Texts on my iPhone and my Mac Messages app

iMessages are sent to my Mac as well as my iPhone. Everything syncs in real-time and the end result is seamless. Phone calls can be answered through my Mac as well and. Safari syncs between the devices and will allow me to open tabs on one device when they’re open on the other. Mail works in the same manner.

What I’m Looking Ahead to Doing:

I’d like to install Parallels software and run Windows 10 (eventually) in a virtualized environment. So far the only real program I’d like to have on my Mac that I can’t have conventionally is Visual Studio.

Final Thoughts (for now):

A lot of people told me that a Mac is “a waste of money.” I have to disagree. For me, it’s an ideal machine. As a computer science student, I’m required to devleop software for a range of different operating systems. Macs are the only computers capable of running Windows, Linux, and Mac OS on one machine. Besides that, I’m really enjoying my Mac experience thus far. Everything works and works well. I have access to everything I did on my Windows computer and now that I have an iPhone, I have a lot of extra functionality. I’ve longed for the capability to come home, plug my phone in and stil have access to everything on my computer. My MacBook makes that a reality. I’m much more deeply entrenched within Apple’s ecosystem than I had ever imagined, but this kind of synergy is very powerful. I can see why so many people opt for this duopoly. Independently, both my iPhone and MacBook are powerful devices, but I feel that, in tandem, these two together really shine. When I get home from school or work, I want to just leave my phone in one place and use my Mac for everything.

Advertisements

I Want BBM to be the Best iOS App

The space for cross-platform messaging applications is as crowded as ever with applications like BBM, WhatsApp, Kik,  Skype, WeChat, Google Hangouts, and many others battling for megabytes of space on everyone’s smartphones.  Among those named, BBM resonates with me more than the others.  Having been a BlackBerry user exclusively for the past five years, BBM has become an indispensable application to me.  While I was not the biggest user of BBM on legacy BlackBerry devices, it’s importance grew once I moved to BlackBerry 10.  Some of my closest relationships have formed through BBM and, because of that, I can never truly let go of the messaging platform.

Recently, I’ve opted to give iOS its first real try on an iPhone 6 Plus.  Thankfully, BBM is no longer tied to BlackBerry so I can maintain contact with my BBM-exclusive contacts.  However, a major part of the iOS experience is iMessage, Apple’s “answer” to BlackBerry’s BBM.  When people talk about cross-platform messaging applications, iMessage seems to make its name into the mix.  So I’d just like to share my thoughts on iMessage and BBM on both BlackBerry 10 and iOS.

BBM was not the hook which kept me tied to my BlackBerry for five years.  It was only over this past year, BBM has become the single-most used and important application on my BlackBerry.  To any BlackBerry user, this isn’t surprising.  For me, BBM had a few draws which separated it from the others.  For one, BBM’s use of PINs (8-digit hexadecimal identifiers unique to BlackBerry hardware and now each user) made sharing contact information easy without giving away personal data.  Even if you did acquire someone’s PIN, you would have to gain their approval to talk to them, and either could remove the other effortlessly. BBM also alerted you to when a messaged was delivered to and read by the recipient, a feature that, once experienced, becomes addicting.

The introduction of BBM Channels puts BBM squarely in contention with services like Facebook and Twitter.  BBM’s improved sharing functionality made it simple for both business and consumer users to share files, pictures, and even location.  BBM Voice and BBM Video made video conferencing and even casual video chat an enjoyable and experience and Screen Share, in particular, a very novel and useful utility.  The biggest change to BBM, though, came with the announcement of its availability on iOS and Android.  Now, BBM is available to users on BlackBerry, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and, through BlackBerry Blend, Windows and Mac users with BlackBerry devices running OS 10.3 and above. BBM has become more than a simple messaging app.

iMessage is Apple’s response to BBM and, as some see it, the company’s attempt to sway BlackBerry users tied to BBM onto iOS.  The idea behind iMessage is very simple; when communicating between two iOS devices, the text/SMS message would be sent over data instead of the cellular network.  In essence, it was a very watered down version of BBM in its inception.  It, though, made communicating with iOS and Mac devices easier and more reliable.

iMessage has evolved over time.  Users can now manually toggle whether they’d like to send “read receipts” (telling your recipient you’ve read their message).  Users of iMessage can also see when the person with which they’re speaking is typing a message.  Getting an iPhone, I was excited to have both iMessage and BBM on one phone.  After all, most of my close friends and family use iPhones and, despite my most diligent attempts, I just could not get them to install or continue using BBM.  The few who did install it uninstalled it or never responded to BBMs.  I found it puzzling that this most celebrated and long-awaited application faced such opposition.  I wanted to explore why this was for myself.

After a week of owning an iPhone, I have my answer.

BBM’s relative weakness on other platforms isn’t really BlackBerry’s fault at all.  It became easy for me to see why BlackBerry users could not figure why BBM wasn’t as popular on competing platforms as it is on BlackBerry 10, and this has everything to do with the strength of BlackBerry 10.  For those of you unfamiliar with BlackBerry 10, it’s signature feature is inclusion of the BlackBerry Hub.  The BlackBerry Hub provides  its users a single, unified interface for every communication which enters or exits the device, including phone calls, emails, BBMs, texts, WhatsApp messages, Facebook notifications, Twitter notifications, and much more.  The key functionality here is that BBMs and texts appear in the same inbox.  This makes BlackBerry 10 users very, very efficient in communicating with their friends or colleagues as they seamlessly transition from one to the other.  This kind of efficiency is almost unparalleled and BlackBerry deserves much applause for their implementation of the BlackBerry Hub.

Here is where iMessage and iOS differentiate themselves from BlackBerry 10.  iOS has one application for both text messages and iMessages.  The transition between both is equally as seamless, but in a different way. Yes, switching between an iMessage and a text message is as simple as it is on BlackBerry 10.  However, iMessage will automatically send your message as a text message if iMessage (rather, a data connection)  is unavailable.   Fundamentally, this makes me view iMessage and BBM as two distinct applications which don’t compete with one another.

So what about iMessage and BBM on iOS?

BBM on iOS is an application like any other.  When you receive a message, you can opt to receive push notifications for the message.  In this respect, BBM functions very similarly to BBM on BlackBerry. The “Ds” and “Rs” on BBM also functions identically to BlackBerry’s BBM.

This may be the first point of contention that may keep some from BBM.  As I mentioned earlier, iMessage has incorporated a similar mechanism into iMessage, but iMessage’s use of “delievered” and “read” signals are a bit different than BBM’s.  On BBM, when a message is delivered to me, it will stay marked as “delivered” until I physically interact with the message.  If I open the message, type into the text field to reply, or even press the “back” button, my message changes from “delivered”  to “read.”  Even using BlackBerry 10’s banner and actionable notifications will not mark the message as “read” until the reply has been sent.  iMessage is far less “forgiving.”  If a message is delivered to you and your screen is on and you are within the conversation thread, the message is marked as “read.”   Acting on iOS banner and actionable notifications will also mark the message as “read.” The use of read receipts is entirely optional, however, and its use has been met with controversy in my circles.   Most of my friends prefer I not use the feature, but after having used BBM for so long, it’s a difficult feature to relinquish.  But BBM’s obligatory use of this feature may be just a tad off-putting to users who aren’t so used to it.

BBM notifications on iOS are not the same as BBM notifications on BlackBerry.  On BlackBerry, you can act on BBM notifications from within any application.  On the BlackBerry 10 lock screen, tapping on a BBM will take you straight into the conversation into the BlackBerry Hub.  iOS 8 introduced similar features for iMessage, allowing actionable notifications throughout the entire OS and allowing replies straight from the lock screen.  BBM messages on iOS, however, do not enjoy the same privileges.  BBMs must be responded to from within the BBM app, fragmenting users between their SMS/iMessages and BBMs.  BBM Groups are a particular pain point.  On BlackBerry 10, users have the option to turn off group notifications in the BlackBerry Hub.  No such option exists on BBM for iOS, meaning that in order to mute groups, you must toggle off notifications for BBM entirely.  BBM Group notifications on iOS are also done strangely. Each entry into a group causes a notification to appear, meaning that an entire group conversation will appear within the Notifications area on iOS, despite all being part of one group.  Turning off push notifications, however, means that any kind of notification for BBM is turned off.  In essence, I can’t tell when I have new BBMs because turning off push notifications also turns off the notification icon atop the BBM icon.  I have to constantly check BBM for new messages.  The end result is that I respond to BBMs much less frequently than I used to on BlackBerry 10.

So, what do I want?

In essence, what I want is an all-encompassing BBM experience on iOS as I had on BlackBerry 10.  But there’s more to it.  When people compare BBM and iMessage, it’s not exactly a fair comparison.  BBM is not simply a rerouting of texts through data; it’s so much more than that.  BBM is its own social platform, complete with features that make it an attractive tool for business purposes and casual users.  Yes, iMessage is more than a redirecting of messages through data as well, but it is, in no way, as iconic or as feature-rich as BBM. The “Ds” and “Rs” used to be a huge draw, yet BBM has so much more now.  Yes, BBM will always be limited by the permissions it is allowed on non-BlackBerry platforms, but I want BBM to be the best app on any platform I use.  BBM is an extension of BlackBerry and to users of other platforms, it is the face of BlackBerry.  I want BBM to succeed because BBM succeeding everywhere is BlackBerry succeeding in one market I know it can dominate in.  If BBM is going to be available to users of other platforms, it should be the best experience possible.

I want a BBM that doesn’t intimidate iOS users with an unfamiliar UI, but one that’s inviting and comfortable.  I want a BBM optimized for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.  I want a BBM that has more control over notifications (if that’s possible).

I believe BBM to be the single-best messaging client on earth and I want a BBM experience on iOS that is as indispensable and as enjoyable as BBM on BlackBerry 10.

Tough Love: Why We Left Our BlackBerrys

As you have probably noticed, we have recently made the change from BlackBerry to iPhone (which you can read about on Lauren’s blog and David’s blog). We’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments from this switch, and because of that, we decided to write a blog post about the reasons why. Since we both got BlackBerrys at the same time, and then switched to iPhone at the same time, we thought it only appropriate that we create a unified blog post about it!

How We Got Involved in BlackBerry

Lauren: I’ve always been a huge supporter of BlackBerry, and absolutely loved their phones. My first smartphone was a BlackBerry Storm back in 2009, and I’ve had BlackBerrys ever since. The #TeamBlackBerry community was just another reason I chose to stay with BlackBerry. They helped me with issues, supported me in my various endeavors, and became some of my closest friends! As iPhones became more and more popular, I swore I would never buy one. My friends eventually all switched to iPhones, even the ones who were as dedicated to Android as I was to BlackBerry. It was hard constantly explaining why I continued to love BlackBerry, why their devices worked for me, and why I hadn’t tried an iPhone yet. Since I had never used anything different, all I knew was BlackBerry. I thought they were the best phones for me, and no other phone would even come close.

 

David:  My intrigue with BlackBerry began in 2008 when my mother brought home a BlackBerry Curve 8330.  I was fascinated by a phone with the ability to load full web pages and one that had a full QWERTY keyboard.  In 2009, when it came time to upgrade, I chose a Pearl Flip 8230 to be my first smartphone and my first BlackBerry.  The more I used my BlackBerry, the more I loved the experience, and that experience is what brought me back in 2011 to a Torch 9810, a Z10 in early-2013, and a Z30 earlier this year.  With every passing BlackBerry device that fell into my hands, the more entrenched within the #TeamBlackBerry community I became and, soon enough, I found myself surrounded by some of my now-closest friends and the only thing which brought us together were our BlackBerry devices.  The allure of the iPhone and other competing operating systems normally felt distant, for a long time because BlackBerry’s experience felt better, but also because where BlackBerry lacked in a truly encompassing ecosystem, it excelled in forming a tight-knit community of users, most of whom cared about each other.  With every new BlackBerry came a renewed resolve, a resolve that I would never use anything but a BlackBerry in my life.

What Made Us Switch

Lauren: When one of my friends switched to the iPhone 6, I decided to test out his iPhone 5. After using it for a few days, I realized that this was actually the best phone for me. I was worried that I liked this phone so much! I was always defending BlackBerry against Apple, saying how you couldn’t possibly be productive on an iPhone, and how they were for people who wanted to conform. After using the phone for a few weeks, I realized what I should have realized years ago. Just because you support a company and appreciate the products they create doesn’t mean it’s the best product for you.

 

David:  In mobile, there are only two (well, three, now) companies that develop the software and manufacture their own hardware; Apple and BlackBerry (and now Microsoft).  As such, I’ve always found every iPhone since the iPhone 4 fascinating.  However, the experience (combination of both hardware and software) was never enough to pull me away from BlackBerry. Still, I levied my opinion on the iPhone as if I had used one.  As someone who loves technology, especially mobile technology, and a computer science undergraduate student, I recently began feeling that it was unfair of me to do this.  Admittedly, it became harder to say why my BlackBerry was the best choice for me, let alone my friends, family, and anyone else who asked for my opinion on the matter.  BlackBerry’s new enterprise-focused direction and target market further convinced me that it was time to explore other devices, OSs, and ecosystems.  It’s difficult to say that this was fueled by a dissatisfaction for my Z30 or BlackBerry 10, but it was a feeling of alienation that pushed me to fulfill a wish 4 years in the making; the wish to give the iPhone its fair share of a chance.

 

Why iPhone is Currently the Best Phone for Us

Lauren: Social media is my passion, and it’s the career path I plan on taking after college. Because there are so many new platforms and apps designed every day relating to social media, I need to stay up-to-date with them. This is the critical area that caused me to rethink my phone choice. BlackBerry doesn’t have the major apps that I need and want, like Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. Yes, there are Android apps that can be sideloaded, and there are native versions of these apps, but they just can’t compare. As much as I risk sounding like Jony Ive, everything on iPhones just works. The apps work as they should, the OS itself is lag-free and it has all of the features I want and need. Sure, there are things I miss on my BlackBerry, but things like the hub and LED come second to apps and compatibility.

 

David:  When I used to tell people why I chose a BlackBerry over other devices, I would say that I didn’t use many apps and that I didn’t need them.  Well, the fact of the matter is, I never knew what it meant to have many apps to use and the world’s largest, most polished app library from which to choose.  Now I have access to apps for services that I’ve used while on my BlackBerry, like Pinterest, WordPress, and all of my tennis apps. Of course, there are certain things about my BlackBerry that I miss; swiping to reach the BlackBerry Hub, the flashing LED, the typing experience, and BBM on BlackBerry.  However, when it comes to the most consistent, most polished, most power-efficient operating system on the market, it’s very difficult to make a case against iOS.  Everything really does just simply work as you’d like it and, for the most part, in a very elegant and efficient fashion.

The Future

We can’t predict what will happen in the future, and we certainly can’t predict what phones are coming out in the upcoming months/years.  When it comes to what devices we’ll be picking up in the future, it’s difficult to predict with much certainty.  Right now, iOS is our operating system of choice because it works the best for us above its competitors.  With that being said, the door is never fully closed on the possibility of returning to BlackBerry.  We’ll be ever observant and supportive of the company that made us passionate about smartphones, hoping that it fully recovers and wins in the enterprise.  Even more than that, though, we desperately hope to see BlackBerry return to the consumer market with devices that can compete for the hearts of consumers like us with a version of BlackBerry 10 that exudes the polish and elegance of iOS while, at the same time, does so in a very BlackBerry-like fashion.  Whether it be through carrying one of its devices or purely through our sentiments, we’ll always support BlackBerry and our #TeamBlackBerry community.

This post was co-authored by Lauren Kortbein (@laurenkortbein) and David Bethala (@DavidBethala)

Exploring My Passions: Why #TeamBlackBerry is More than a Hashtag to Me

Everyone has defining qualities, quirks, etc. that make them, well,  them.  Many of us have certain things we want others to associate with us, be it our hair style/color, the way we dress, the TV shows or movies we watch, or what have you.  In this age of mobile technology and warring tech giants, the more “involved” of us use the smartphone we carry to be a part of the definition of who we are.  Anyone who frequents Twitter, at some point, may have seen a reference to a “#TeamiPhone,” a “#TeamAndroid,” or a “#TeamWindowsPhone” (maybe not that last one), signifying the user’s device or operating system (OS) of choice.  Those are the mainstream; the ones everyone talks about and the type of devices you’d mostly see on the streets of your locality.

As a technology enthusiast, I can say that I do choose to engage in the “#TeamX” and am quite fond of it.  However, as you may have guessed from the title, I don’t use any of the three aforementioned mobile platforms.

I use a BlackBerry (namely, a BlackBerry Z30).

No, the platform of my choice is far more special to me and also incredibly meaningful beyond just the phone I use.  It’s why I’m proud to tweet with the hashtag #TeamBlackBerry.

However, in order to understand why I am so attached to my BlackBerry, naturally, it’s imperative to go back to when this affection began and explore how it grew.

Back in 2009, I was 16-years-old. I was on my second cell phone and my family was due to upgrade.  The smartphone industry was still mostly tied to corporate users as Apple’s iPhone hadn’t, as of that time, taken off yet.  BlackBerry (RIM, at that time, rather), was beginning to wane, but holding firmly.  Business users and many smartphone users still preferred BlackBerry devices.  Coming from a flip phone and liking the form factor, I decided to continue with that particular style. My mom had brought home a work-issued BlackBerry Curve quite sometime ago at that point and it fascinated me.  The thought of carrying your emails and having a web

BlackBerry Pearl Flip, courtesy of CrackBerry.com

BlackBerry Pearl Flip, courtesy of CrackBerry.com

browser all in your pocket was amazing.  Then, there was the full, physical keyboard.  I loved it, but I didn’t like the form.  Luckily for me, that was the year BlackBerry released the Pearl Flip 8220/8230. It was everything I had expected and more.  It was the perfect combination of everything I loved about flip phones with all I envied when using my mom’s Curve.  I had become a smartphone user.  But, I had, inadvertently, become part of something that would become so important to me, as well.  But it wasn’t mine to see just yet.

Two years later, in the summer of 2011, I had just graduated high school and was on the cusp of becoming a college freshman.  It was time to upgrade.  By this point, the Apple/Android battle was in full-swing and it was becoming obvious.  Whereas in 2009 I was still seeing feature phones carried by most around me, I was now seeing either an iPhone or an Android phone.  Naturally, the question of whether I should continue being a BlackBerry user reared its head.  My Pearl was good to me during the two prior years and in that time, I had become entrenched in the CrackBerry.com forums as a frequent member.  I figured “Why abandon a brand and a company who’s products I enjoy using?” So I waited until RIM released its 2011 BlackBerry line-up (BlackBerry 7 devices) of devices that year.  One day after AT&T had the

BlackBerry Torch 9810, courtesy of BerryReview.com

BlackBerry Torch 9810, courtesy of BerryReview.com

Torch 9810 online, one was on its way to my house.  This time, my parents and sister also jumped in on the smartphone revolution and decided to get iPhones.

October 2011 was the year RIM experienced its major outage (which you can read about here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/12/us-blackberry-idUSTRE79B24Y20111012).  Being a BlackBerry user, it was difficult to ignore, even though I, personally, felt little disruption from it at all.  But the mistrust was growing.  RIM was facing increasing pressure from Apple and Android to deliver something new.  It was easy to forget that BlackBerry 7 was an evolution from the same OS that ran on BlackBerry’s pagers from in 1999.  That’s software that’s 12-years-old.   From a purely software perspective, it couldn’t run the same kinds of applications that ran on Apple’s iOS (released in 2007) or Google’s Android (2008), regardless of how powerful the hardware specifications were.

RIM’s saviour (at that time) was its “BBX” platform.  BBX was intended to be a brand new operating system that makes use of the QNX microkernel, developed by QNX Software Systems and acquired by RIM in 2010.  QNX has a long history of being an incredibly reliable and stable operating system used in embedded systems like nuclear power plants and in the automotive industry.  However, it was far from complete and its only test in the consumer market was on RIM’s tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, released in

lazaridis_playbook_techvibes

Former RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis unveils the BlackBerry PlayBook, courtesy of techvibes.com

early 2011.  The ill-fated but deeply-beloved tablet was marred by broken promise after broken promise.  Initially thought to have much potential as an “iPad-killer,” releasing a tablet without apps for mail, contacts, and calendar/events was far too fatal.  Even in October 2011, it was clear that BBX (later renamed “BlackBerry 10”)  was far away.  In the meantime, RIM had to compete with Apple and Google with an outdated platform running on outdated hardware.

After an eventful start to 2012 and under a new CEO, following a bleak end to 2011 (where journalists were predicting the end for RIM),  I purchased my own PlayBook.  It was at this point that I finally began to see that I was a faithful BlackBerry user.  I had purchased a year-old tablet that fell flat, sales-wise, and was said to be avoided.  I bought it, still, under the promise that OS 2.0 (the update that brings mail, calendar, contacts, and the ability to run Android applications via a runtime) was to be released early that year.  Surely enough, that update did come and PlayBook owners like myself loved it.  RIM had finally delivered on a long-standing promise and this one little gesture gave many of us hope that under newly-minted CEO Thorsten Heins, RIM would continue.

BlackBerry World, an annual conference held by RIM to announce new products, services, etc., in 2012 was unforgettable for the simple event that it was our first glimpse at BlackBerry 10. It excited all of us BlackBerry fans, whether we were there at the conference or not. It was familiar, but different (in a good way).  It was what so many liked about their BlackBerrys, with a focus on emails and communications, with all the capabilities of its competitors.  It could run all the same games and apps iPhones and Android phones could run.  Writers and journalists who had been critical of RIM leading up to the conference were actually praising what they saw.  They believed in RIM. Clutching my Torch, I knew it was only a matter of time before I could have BlackBerry 10 for myself.

heins2012_eweek

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the BlackBerry Dev Alpha, the first BlackBerry 10 prototype device at BlackBerry World 2012, courtesy of eWeek.com

At BlackBerry’s fall developer conference later that year, we saw even more of BlackBerry 10. The more I saw of it, the more I fell in love with it, and I couldn’t wait to see more. Positive sentiment towards BlackBerry and RIM was growing, and, after a year or more of negativity, it was a welcome sight. A slight hiccup came in the form of a small delay (which was much smaller than was initially made out to be). By the end of 2012, a date was set: 30 January 2013. On that day, BlackBerry 10 would be officially unveiled to the public at a huge media event in New York City, held contemporaneously with several, much smaller events globally. The countdown began.

The week leading up to and the morning of 30 January was an exciting period of time. After having to sit and watch while numerous other companies like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc. announced new devices and products, BlackBerry users have had to sit and wait. But on that morning (skipping class, by the way), I, along with ardent BlackBerry fans across the world, found one way or another to watch CEO Thorsten Heins announce that not only was “RIM” no more (changed to “BlackBerry”), but also announce the first two BlackBerry 10 smartphones: the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. Soon after announcing the devices themselves, he dropped the bombshell which shattered my excitement.

Heins_blackberry10_launch_computerworld

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 on 30 January 2013, courtesy of ComputerWorld.com

What was rumored to be a “global” release turned out to be a global launch instead. Canada, the U.K., and many other regions were slated to have devices available within days or weeks of the event. However, Mr. Heins could give no solid U.S. release date; only an “expectation” of a March release. Perhaps I was foolish for thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’d have a BlackBerry Z10 within the next week or two. But, alas, I waited.

In early March, AT&T finally set their release date at 22 March, beating every other major U.S. carrier to the punch. I put down my preorder for $550 (my first purchase of a phone outright, as well) and on the 22, I had what I had waited, really, more than year to finally have. BlackBerry 10, in my hands, was much more than I had anticipated. I had trouble keeping up with the pace of the device. Everything was fast, fluid, and beautiful. When I held it in my hands for the first time, and every subsequent time after that, I knew I was holding the best phone on the market. I showed it off to everyone at every opportunity. I was proud to carry my Z10.

Questions surrounding BlackBerry’s future arose again in August 2013, when the company actively sought a major change in strategy. And, once again, those familiar “Is BlackBerry dead?” questions were asked. I was asked those questions when I had my Torch in 2011 and much of 2012. However, at least then I could always respond with “Well, BlackBerry 10 is coming soon.” But in August 2013, BlackBerry 10 was out everywhere and the company was still finding itself in a precarious situation. Still, despite that, I knew that, no matter what was being said by journalists, media pundits, and stock analysts, the phone in my hand was the best that could be done.

Those questions were put to a rest later that autumn through some business deals that aren’t really necessary to get into right now. However, as a result of said deals, BlackBerry was able to maintain business as usual (for the most part), though under a new CEO, John Chen.

Fall 2013 also marked a pointed change for me, as well.  During this time, I had begun to expand my presence on social media a bit, namely Twitter. I wasn’t particularly good at using the platform, but I eventually accommodated and found it to be an incredibly versatile service. In addition to being able to gather news and information in real time, Twitter seemed to enable users with common interests to interact. In fact, it even seemed to promote this. Having always participated in anonymous forums to live my BlackBerry passions (as in my everyday life, I am surrounded by users of other platforms), I found Twitter to be my new social network of choice.

As I worked my way through the awkward stages of establishing oneself on any social network, I found many other BlackBerry users who, like me, shared a common passion for, not only the devices we carried, by for anything and everything to do with the brand. I felt so at home when talking to and interacting with these people.

Up until this point, I’ve yet to mention one quintessential BlackBerry feature; BBM. BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry’s own social network that was present on every BlackBerry I’ve owned since my Pearl. It was an app I thought was utterly useless. I never used it because I never saw the point of using it. Until September 2013, I could only use it with other BlackBerry users, and I didn’t know of many (and the ones I did know of didn’t use the service either). I didn’t get BBM, that is, until I started using Twitter.

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announcing BBM for iOS and Android at BlackBerry World 2013, courtesy of DCLMoible.com

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announcing BBM for iOS and Android at BlackBerry World 2013, courtesy of DCLMoible.com

For those unfamiliar with BBM, every BlackBerry device (and now BlackBerry ID) is assigned a unique 8-digit hexadecimal code called a “PIN”. BBM is a chat application (which is now more of a social network) that makes use of those PINs to send messages to other BlackBerrys. Now that BBM is on iOS, Android, and (soon to be) Windows Phone, the idea of “PIN-sharing” has grown. How is this tied to Twitter? PIN sharing on Twitter is the most secure way, in my opinion, to exchange contact information. BBM allows users to accept or reject any user that sends them an invitation to chat. One could tweet out their PIN and only accept the users they want to chat with while rejecting the ones they don’t know.

Once I began to interact with other BlackBerry enthusiasts on Twitter, my BBM contact list grew from 0 to over 50 rapidly. These people were more than simply “BlackBerry users.” They were real people that I was forming real relationships with over a common interest we both shared. To me, it was incredible.

In September, BlackBerry released the “Z30″; the successor the Z10 with its main improvements being a much larger 5” display and much better battery life. Unfortunately, this device was released only to Verizon in the United States, leaving AT&T users with little option but to wait for a possible later release date or simply import an international model. My opportunity to get a Z30 finally arose in late-March when BlackBerry began selling the device directly to customers on its site. In order to acquire one, though, I was forced to make the difficult decision to sell my beloved Z10. However, after much encouragement from my “Twitter friends,” I did so and purchased a Z30.

From the day I placed an order for my Z30 to the day it arrived, those so-called “Twitter friends” made me feel incredible simply for purchasing a device. I felt that it was almost absurd to get that excited over someone whom they didn’t even know getting a new phone. I was in both disbelief but, at the same time, utterly humbled.

“How could people I don’t even know care so much?” I thought to myself.

It caused me to shift the way I thought about people, about social interactions, about Twitter, and about this “TeamBlackBerry.” I realized my own way of thinking was absurd and archaic, even. I was using some nonsense moniker like “Twitter friends” to describe REAL people that cared about me. They no longer felt like strangers. I stopped making a line between my “friends” and my “Twitter friends.”  I no longer have “Twitter friends.” Instead, I have friends I happened to have met on Twitter. I talk to them everyday in the same manner I talk to the friends I’ve personally met and have grown-up with. There is no distinction. In fact, I’d go as far to say that many of them are more involved than many of the friends I’ve met. To me, it’s something I could have never foreseen and I’m so happy to have these people.

It’s almost unfathomable for me to believe that I’ve formed friendships with people all across the globe and the only initial common factor was that we both used BlackBerrys. And, to top it off, I cannot even begin to describe how much I love and cherish the members of #TeamBlackBerry with whom I’ve formed friendships. They are, honestly, no different to the friends I can play sports or have coffee with everyday.

#TeamBlackBerry, as a whole, has been through quite its fair share of ups and downs. At one point, its-no-our future was called into serious question. Our friends, colleagues, parents, really everyone asked whether we’d soon be forced to part with our beloved devices. Those questions arose in 2011. Despite many journalists’ predictions about RIM’s imminent “death”, today, three years later, BlackBerry stands proud. Even more proud than BlackBerry are its fans, members of #TeamBlackBerry. All of us, rallying around our device-maker of choice, our brand of choice, the friends we’ve made.

I was once asked whether I was embarrassed to be carrying a BlackBerry. I never was. Today, I am proud to carry my Z30 and stand behind this company which has given me much more than a series of smartphones. That’s why owning a BlackBerry means more to me than most could imagine.

That’s why #TeamBlackBerry is more than a hashtag to me.

That’s why I’m #TeamBlackBerry.

Connect with me on Twitter @DavidBethala