Liane Cassavoy, PC World
Sunday, February 22, 2009 12:19 AM
Not long ago, the words "BlackBerry" and "software" didn't belong in the same sentence. Sure, your BlackBerry smart phone was capable of running software; it even came with a few applications installed. But if you were looking for a wide selection of third-party productivity apps, you were out of luck.
Fortunately, things have changed. Today, people want more out of their smart phones, and phone manufacturers--and third-party software developers--are meeting those needs. Most new BlackBerry phones include more software than past versions have--you'll even find the Documents To Go office suite installed on most new models. And thousands of applications are available for download and purchase. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is finally getting in on the act, too, as the company prepares to launch the BlackBerry Application Storefront, its answer to the iPhone's App Store, next month.
But you don't have to wait for the Storefront if you're looking for BlackBerry software. Plenty of great apps are around now--you just have to know where to find them. We've rounded up ten tools that can make your BlackBerry even better. This list is by no means comprehensive; the hardest part was whittling it down to only ten titles. So if your favorite BlackBerry app isn't on here, let us know in the comments section below.
I know, I just said that most new BlackBerry phones come with a version of Documents To Go already installed. And they do--but it's the Standard Edition. That app will let you view and edit existing Microsoft Office files, but it won't let you create new ones; for those capabilities, you need the Premium Edition. Both versions let you open existing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents and Adobe PDF files natively, so you don't need to convert them to view them properly. They even let you view tracked changes and allow you to insert comments in spreadsheets.
It may not sound like a terrible hassle to open your BlackBerry's e-mail client every time you get a message. But why not make things easy on yourself? PeeKaWho pops up an alert when you have an incoming e-mail message, showing you who sent it, the subject, and a snippet of the text. That way you'll know whether the message is important enough to read right away, or whether it can wait until you've finished your current task. The alerts are especially handy if you're composing another e-mail--they allow you to see new messages without losing the one you're working on. You can also create blacklists or whitelists to control how many pop-ups you get.
Leave your laptop at home--or, at least, that's what this CRM (contact relationship management) application promises to help you do. Maximizer CRM for the BlackBerry offers many of the features of the company's popular desktop CRM app in a version that takes advantage of your smart phone's features; for example, you can initiate a call or begin drafting an e-mail to one of your contacts from within the Freedom app. New in this version is support for the recently released Bold and Storm smart phones, as well as wireless deployment capabilities that will make life easier for your IT folks. It can work as a stand-alone CRM program, or in tandem with the company's desktop- and browser-based products.
Some people may think that Macs and BlackBerrys don't mix, but that's not the case. PocketMac is a free utility that will let you sync your BlackBerry phone with your Mac computer, just as RIM's BlackBerry Desktop app does for PCs. Once your phone is connected to your Mac via a USB cable, PocketMac will sync your information, including calendars, contacts, tasks, e-mail, and notes, from a variety of applications such as iCal, Entourage, Mail.app, and Daylite. You can even sync music from iTunes.
Twitter, the social networking service that allows you to post brief updates on your daily activities and peruse the same kind of info from your friends, is wildly popular. Many people can't stand to be without Twitter when they're away from their PCs. Enter TwitterBerry: This free application lets you post your own tweets, or view other people's, using your BlackBerry. The interface is, well, basic, but it gets the job done. If you're having Twitter withdrawals, TwitterBerry could provide the fix you need.
If you want to start a debate among BlackBerry users, just ask them which mobile browser they prefer. Some folks are thrilled with the latest BlackBerry Browser, while others call it rubbish and insist on a third-party alternative. Me? I'm somewhere in the middle. The new BlackBerry Browser, which you'll find on phones like the Bold, the Storm, and the new Curve 8900, is light years ahead of past versions, but I still find that it occasionally chokes on a page or doesn't display a site as it should. That's why I like to have another option, such as Opera Mini; it's designed to run quickly and help you browse Web sites as they're meant to be seen. And, hey, you can't beat the price.
Anyone who has used an iPhone knows that its visual voicemail is one of its best--if often overlooked--features. But other companies, like YouMail, are taking note, launching similar services for other smart phones. YouMail visual voicemail displays a list of your incoming messages, so you can see who they're from and when they arrived before listening to them. It also can transcribe the voice messages into text so that you can read them in places where you can't make calls, and it lets you create various outgoing messages for different callers.
Viigo started out as an RSS reader--and it was an excellent one, allowing you to add newsfeeds easily and browse the results. Nowadays this free application remains an outstanding RSS reader, but it also does much more, tracking weather, flight status, sports scores, stock quotes, and even restaurant reviews.
You don't have to leave your Skype account behind when you're away from your PC. iSkoot lets you access many of Skype's features right from your smart phone. You can chat with other Skype users, and you can save your monthly allotment of voice minutes by using Skype for voice calls. Make and receive calls to and from other Skype users, or use SkypeOut to call regular phone numbers.
Google offers a great collection of mobile applications, including Google Maps, Gmail, Docs, and Sync. Deciding which one to include here was a tough call--until I realized just how useful Google Mobile Updater can be. This tool allows you to install a variety of Google apps--including all the ones I just mentioned--to your phone, and notifies you when new products or updates to your existing apps are available.