Hutchison is about to launch the Blackberry email device in Hong Kong, and has been trialing them via investment bankers and FinanceAsia. Steven Irvine and Jackie Horne have used Blackberries in the past few weeks. Here's what they think.
Irvine: It is altogether rare that a product can be said to change your life, and the Blackberry is a good example. I would argue that it is better than sliced bread.
The Blackberry is a Palm-sized email device, a PDA and a mobile phone. It connects to your office email server (Outlook or Lotusnotes) and delivers your emails realtime. It uses the GPRS system and thus is always-on (ie no need to do dial up). It is frighteningly addictive, and means you are never out of touch with emails. For example, you can clear most of your email inbox in a taxi before you get to the office.
Whenever I have shown the Blackberry to investment bankers, it has universally occasioned the reaction: "Oh my god, I've got to have one." Eyes light up as if they have just won a very large mandate.
The Blackberry's battery runs for around two days and currently it can roam in Singapore, Taiwan, four provinces in China, and the UK. Hutch expects to have roaming agreements signed throughout Asia within three months. It estimates that the cost of downloading 1000 emails while roaming will be about HK$150.
Time to ditch the laptop? Yes and no. The Blackberry cannot open attachments and thus its is not a total solution if you are on the road and need to urgently see an attachment sent by a colleague. But for certain short trips, the Blackberry may mean you can leave your laptop behind.
Any problems? It is not triband, and functions on GSM, so trips to the US will be an issue (Hutch says you will be able to insert your SIM card into a hired US-compatible device, although this sounds like a hassle)
The Blackberry, unlike the Palm, uses a keyboard. This is small, and thus conditions brevity when you respond to emails. No bad thing. Those with large hands might find it a bit more troublesome to use.
Agnes Nardi, managing director of Hutchison Telecom, told me she thought the Blackberry's emailing ability was a genuine "killer application". She is right.
The Blackberry, almost as a bonus, also comes with a built-in mobile phone and earpiece. I suspect however, many will use the Blackberry mostly for email...
...And as a PDA. The Blackberry has thrown down an interesting gauntlet for Palm. The Blackberry has a killer application here too. The Blackberry's calendar talks real-time to your secretary who can insert and alter entries from the office. Thanks to the use of GPRS, whatever your secretary changes will automatically come up on your screen. Imagine sitting at lunch and discovering that your 2.30pm meeting has been put back to 2.45pm meaning you have time for another coffee.
KS Li has been very clever once again by getting the exclusive Hong Kong rights to the Blackberry. I can't imagine anyone I know not having a Blackberry within 18 months.
Of course, such a social transformation will require some Blackberry decorum. Watching colleagues gazing at their Blackberries while in meetings (and answering mails while listening half-heartedly) will become an issue. So too for those who cannot get through a dinner without a glance beneath the table at their Blackberry.
At which point we come to the views of Blackberry-addict, Ms Jackie Horne...
Horne: What more can I say other than how sad I've become, as the first thing I now reach out of bed for in the morning is an item of fruit rather than ........
Pricing: The Blackberry is used by 14,000 companies in the US and Europe. However, for you to use it, your IT department will have to install some secure Blackberry software on the company email server. This is done on a licensing basis. For the first 20 Blackberry users the cost is HK$39,800 and thereafter HK$6000 per 10 users. So from a corporate perspective, each user will cost the company around HK$600. Companies in the US have concluded that this is a cheap investment for making their staff more efficient.
The cost of buying the handset varies, depending on whether you are an existing Hutchison Telecom (ie Orange) customer. If you are, you can buy the Blackberry handset for HK$3980 and pay a monthly charge of HK$538. If you are not an Orange customer it will cost HK$5480 and HK$638 respectively. For this you get unlimited emails in Hong Kong, although you will obviously have to pay roaming charges.