A couple of months ago, I took my family to the beach for Spring Break. While I was there, I met a guy who was really sold on his Blackberry. (Actually, this is redundant. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love their Blackberry. In fact, Blackberry users often refer to the device as a “Crackberry” because it’s so addictive.) I had seen them, of course, but this was the first time I ever saw one demonstrated. Being the gadget-guy that I am, I thought, I’ve gotta have one.

Immediately upon my return to work, I contacted my IT department and told them I wanted to order ten test units that we could try for a month. I’ve bought enough gadgets in the past to know that not many of them have any real utility once the initial wow-sensation has passed. I thought that if the Blackberry could survive the scrutiny of my ten top executives for 30 days, it might be worth adopting the technology.

The Blackberry I saw on my vacation had a color screen, so I was a little let down when I received my test unit which had a black-and-white screen. However, I started using the gadget and quickly forgot about the color. Research in Motion, the manufacturer of the Blackberry, has developed some wonderfully elegant usability features. Here are my favorites:

  • Up-to-date connectivity. Your e-mail and calendar changes are “pushed” to the device as soon as they hit your Exchange server (this is the back-end technology that allows Outlook users to communicate with each other within a company). In some cases, I have had e-mails show up on my Blackberry before they appeared on my TabletPC. If your assistant makes a change to your calendar, you know about it instantly.
  • Intuitive point-and-click hardware. The trackwheel on the right-side of the Blackberry is the primary means you use to navigate. It’s like a thumb-operated mouse. I found it to be very natural and intuitive. To select an item, you push the trackwheel. Another button, right next to the trackwheel functions as an escape key. There’s also a Phone button that enables you to instantly go to the phone screen to make a call. Here’s what it looks like:Blackberry
  • A usable thumb-sized keyboard. The Blackberry has a keyboard you can actually use. I wasn’t sure I could actually type with my thumbs, but surprisingly, on the Blackberry, this is very easy. In fact—and don’t tell my wife—I can now do this with one hand in the car! (By the way, while testing the Blackberry, I also tested the Treo 600 side-by-side with it. There’s no comparison. In my opinion, the Treo is “all show and no go.” I liked the phone better, but the keyboard is impossible. Your mileage may vary.)
  • Smart software. Simply click on a e-mail address, phone number, or URL to automatically begin composing an e-mail, place a call, or visit a Web page. The AutoText feature replaces certain phrases or words with whatever you want to attach to it. This is similar to Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect feature or to ActiveWords (though not as sophisticated). This is particularly helpful, since you are typing with your thumbs. For example, if you type two spaces in a row, AutoText will automatically insert a period and a space. It will also automatically capitalize the beginning of a sentence. My favorite feature is the automatic insertion of hypens in contractions. If I enter “didnt”, AutoText will automatically enter “didn’t”. This makes text-entry very fast. (The Treo, by the way, has nothing like this—not even from a third-party developer.)
  • Integrated attachment viewing. You don’t have to purchase additional software to view attachments. This is included out of the box. You can view spreadsheets and documents by simply clicking on the attachment.

For many, the big question is how this technology integrates into David Allen’s Getting Things Donemethodology. Simply put, it doesn’t. Referring to one of his coaching clients, David says,

He tossed his Blackberry (“Crackberry” as he called it!), agreeing with my recommendation that e-mail should be processed most efficiently for most people from at least a laptop, and he ordered a Palm to distribute his Outlook lists into for portability.

With all due respect to David, I think this misses the point. The Blackberry is not a replacement for your normal Getting Things Done system. The task categories don’t sync between Outlook and the Blackberry, so using it as David recommends you use a Palm is not an option. However, this doesn’t mean the Blackberry should be tossed.

The value of the Blackberry to me is for quick e-mail and calendar reference. This comes in handy when I am in the car or on a plane and pulling out my TabletPC is too much trouble. I don’t do a lot of e-mail processing on the Blackberry. But for the occassional quick e-mail, when business is moving at the speed of light, a Blackberry is very handy.

For example, last night I had a business dinner meeting. However, I got the time wrong and arrived at the restaurant 30 minutes early. Fortunately, I had my Blackberry, so I made good use of the time. I was able to respond to several urgent e-mails that kept things moving along. If I had not had my Blackberry, or if I had just brought a Palm, I would have been out of luck. I could have reviewed my lists and seen what I needed to do, but it would have been difficult to get any actual work done.

If the point of Getting Things Done is, well, to get things done, then the Blackberry is worthy of consideration. It enables me to get important things done that would otherwise have to wait until I returned to my computer. Also, since it doubles as a phone, I’m not carrying any more devices than I used to. All told, I’m very pleased.