iPhone vs BlackBerry: Usability Smack Down

Posted by: | Posted on: November 3, 2017

Some say that the iPhone is not yet a BlackBerry killer. But this year at Web Directions South 08 we may have proved otherwise.

Stamford organised for some of the team to attend Web Directions in Sydney to man a stand and to preach the gospel of usability while promoting our new Sydney office. Instead of just having a static stand we thought we would also invite delegates to participate in a simple comparison of the iPhone and BlackBerry interface.

Our findings were slightly skewed by gravity and the sample of the population. Gravity played a role as we used post it notes to rate the ease of use of the phone. However, gravity pulled them down and yours truly put them back up. Our sample included attendees of the Web Directions conference. This bunch was mostly iPhone users.

It’s funny because this may actually say something about the conference delegates. If you want to make a statement about your creative coolness then you pull out an iPhone. But, if you are serious about business then the BlackBerry is your phone of choice.

The findings…

On mobile devices tactile response is not as important
One of the biggest criticisms that the iPhone has had is that it lacks a physical keyboard. Its virtual keyboard offers no tactile response and therefore it just doesn’t feel right. However, surprisingly this is not what we found.

First we have to consider that we are talking mobile devices here, an area where people’s expectations of the user experience are quite low. There isn’t an expectation to be able to type at the same speed as you can with a full size keyboard.

Next let’s look at the two keyboards:

The iPhone presents users with just the information they need. 90% of the time they are typing letters. 10% of the time they typing numbers, therefore 90% of the time users that look at the screen are confronted with a simple interface. For a beginner the experience is intuitive and easy to use. Experienced users can also type without looking at the keyboard. The spell checker picks up common typos to help you do this.


The BlackBerry’s approach is to super impose numbers, functions and letters all on the one keyboard. Making it hard to learn. So for the beginner this keyboard is hard to use and the tactile repsonse is not important. For an experienced user, the nipple on the number 5 may serve as a tactile anchor and help them type without looking at the keys.
iPhone is more computer than a phone
The BlackBerry received a significantly higher satisfaction rating for making a call. The reason was that you can simply enter the phone number and press the call button, just like you do on any phone. On the iPhone, you have to change its mode to phone, then navigate to the number keys, dial the number and press call. The whole experience took people 2 seconds more, but they still ranked the BlackBerry higher in the satisfaction scales. Contrary to its name, the iPhone is more computer than phone.
Time to task completion is key to high customer satisfaction
For the other two tasks that we tested (email and sms) the time it took to complete the task was strongly linked with how people perceived its ease of use. With the BlackBerry taking almost twice as long to send an email, users ranked it poorly. The main complaint here was that users could not find how to send an email to someone not in their contact list.

Again, this study was by no means definitive, we only tested users at the beginning of their learning curve, the sample was heavily skewed towards the iPhone and gravity played a role in the satisfaction scales, but even with all of those factors we still gained some great insights from the experience. It shows how great insights can be gained through even basic usability testing and how better understanding how your users interact with your product can greatly enhance your understanding of that product.

A big thank you to everyone who took the time to be involved with the iPhone Vs Blackberry “smackdown”.





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