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    Credit: Sally Felton + Stephen Krow

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While RIM's Blackberry still holds the government market due to its secure email platform, competing Apple iPhone and Google Android devices seeking security certification could gain a foothold if approved to handle sensitive documents. Photo: Michael Bodmann | iStockphoto.com

Once seemingly synonymous with the term “smartphone,” the BlackBerry has fallen on hard times in recent years. Plagued by service interruptions and stiff competition from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, Research In Motion (RIM), BlackBerry's parent company, has thus far proven itself unable to keep up in the fast-paced tech sector. This year the company announced its first quarterly loss in history, its management team has been overhauled, and industry observers have wondered out loud how well the company will be able to survive — all of which has left customers making the switch to BlackBerry's top rivals.

“RIM isn't doing very well. You don't know how long they're going to be around,” says Jamey Tucker, a tech journalists and author of The Tech Guy. Should the company go under, “you would still be able to use the phone, but RIM would stop developing programs for BlackBerry and their support for BlackBerry would stop.” And while Tucker doubts it will come to that point, he says it's not impossible given the company's problems and its fleeing customers.

Whatever the company's fate, however, Tucker is still an advocate for moving to another device. “I don't think you can beat an iPhone or Android because they're so much easier to use,” he says. He points to the larger screens on iPhone and Android (compared to some BlackBerry models; BlackBerry Torch devices have screens up to 3.7 inches), making them easier to see plans, photos, and documents. And for those not accustomed to using a touchscreen, “once you get the hang of it, you find it's easier than using the tiny buttons on many BlackBerrys,” he says, adding that the challenge for those in the field might be that a touchscreen wouldn't work if the user has gloves on.

And for those doubtful of the sleek devices' ability to survive on a jobsite, “they're durable if you've got a case on them,” Tucker says. “Even if you drop it in water, it won't die if you have a good case. There was one phone with a case they shot across a hockey rink with a stick, and it survived just fine.”

If you're thinking it might be time to make the jump, here are a few of the pros to ditching your BlackBerry for an iPhone or Android.

1) Apps, apps, and more apps

If you think smartphone apps are just for playing Angry Birds, think again. Applications for iPhonek and Android have the power to create and share blueprints, customize lighting for a given room, and help you qualify for LEED certifications. While Blackberry does offer apps, the selection is far more limited, offering only around 30,000; iPhone and Android each have more than 10 times that number.

2) Face Time

If a picture's worth a thousand words, just imagine the value of live video of your jobsite coming straight to your phone. With the iPhone 4 and 4S models, users can send and receive real-time video, making it easier to check on progress, troubleshoot problems, and even pick out products from a distance. Android also has video chat capabilities through Google Talk.

3) Survival of the freest

While Blackberry's operating system is proprietary, Android's is open source, meaning any developer can access the basic code for app development for free — an incentive for developers to focus on creating products for Android.

4) Blackouts

While RIM was once seen as the poster child for reliable email and text-message service, the company's reputation has been marred by a series of blackouts, some of which have lasted for several days while users received little word from RIM on what was going on.

5) Siri

If the idea of a computerized personal assistant is too futuristic for you, iPhone's Siri will put any fears to rest. Unlike voice-command software of ages past that often misinterpreted what the user was saying, the iPhone's Siri feature responds quickly and accurately to spoken direction, allowing users to send messages, schedule appointments, and make calls just by asking it to. Siri will also answer questions, such as “What's the traffic like in this area?” and “What will the weather be for the rest of the week?” It will also read messages sent to the phone when you can't take your eyes off what you're doing.

— Claire Easley is a senior editor at BUILDER, a sister magazine of PUBLIC WORKS.

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