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sync blackberry contacts with gmail: Problem Solved!

Update (February 10, 2009): See Sync Google Calendar and Gmail Contacts with Your BlackBerry for a recent How To guide to the Google Sync for the BlackBerry solution.

In just over fourteen months, one of my posts has received almost 19% of the views for my entire blog.

There is no other post that even comes close.
And to make matters more interesting, the post was written in response to my blog’s search stats. People consistently entered strings along the lines “sync blackberry contacts with gmail” and arrived here.
Frankly, all of this attention made me uneasy.
Why?
Because I really didn’t have much to offer on the topic.
But please don’t think that I didn’t give this information (not data!) some thought.
Honestly, dear reader, I confess I even pondered how I might arrive at a solution that might monetize this 19% for personal gain. Let’s face it, 19% of more than 60K hits translates potentially to more than 11K customers. Ka-ching! I am in disgrace.
Luckily I didn’t waste my time.
Waste, you gasp. Yes, waste.
You see, the fine folks at Google have delivered a solution.
It’s all in the GMail contact manager. This new addition to the GMail client for the BlackBerry solves the problem.
How?
If you have a contact for which you’ve entered phone numbers, these numbers appear when you click on the contact name to view their details. But that’s just the beginning. The phone numbers appear as clickable links. When you click on one of them, you automagically invoke the BlackBerry’s phone capability. (You may have forgotten that your BlackBerry actually allows you to call people as well.) Note that the first time you do this, you’ll need to approve some new settings.
Of course, you can email contacts as well.
Problem solved.
Please read my other posts!
If truth be told, this should be regarded as a great beginning.
Here’s why:
  • Read-only access – You can’t enter contact information from the GMail client on the BlackBerry. In time, we’ll want this. Like tomorrow!
  • Online-access only – You need your contacts when you’re off line? Like when you’re on an airplane? Until this client includes Google Gears functionality or equivalent, you’re out of luck here. I think I can live with that. For now. Because ultimately I would appreciate the ability to compose email when I’m off line. I do that frequently with the BlackBerry’s built-in mail client.
  • Contacts in too many places – Fragmenting contacts between your Google ‘verse and enterprise messaging platform (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes, etc.) has some disadvantages. However, as I’ve learned directly on the heels of personal experience, there are times when it’s wise to have some separation between our personal and corporate selves …

This gives me a lot of what I was looking for.

How about you?
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GMail on Your BlackBerry: Latest Client Offers Significant Featur

A few days ago I upgraded to version 1.5.1.1090 of the GMail client for my BlackBerry 8130. (This is a native, stand-alone, J2ME client application. In other words, it does not require a Web browser.) Previously, and for the past few months, I’ve been using version 1.1.x of this same client. 

The download and installation went very smoothly. One surprise, however, was the need for a reboot of the BlackBerry to complete the installation of the client. I don’t recall that need with previous releases. I can only suppose that this requirement is necessary to enable the deeper integration of the GMail client with the BlackBerry platform.
And that’s a good segue … What’s new? Well: 
  • Contact manager – This is the most significant feature/functionality enhancement. On opening the contact manager, a display of those with whom you interact with the most is presented. There’s also a search functionality that allows you to rapidly retrieve any of your contacts in the familiar way. And of course, should you wish, you can list all of your contacts. Once you’ve selected a contact from the “Most Contacted” list or via search, your contact’s details are presented. Just below the contact details is a link that allows you to display recent conversations with the identified contact. Very powerful. Very Google. Very nice! All of this means that you can initiate a new conversation or pick up on an existing one from the contact manager.  
  • Notification – The notification capability is also a significant enhancement in my estimation. What this means is that an icon resembling a bottle cap appears over top of the GMail client icon to indicate the arrival of new mail. This capability is integrated with your BlackBerry profile so you can associate in and out-of-holster behaviors to signal the arrival of new mail. The only thing missing now is the summary icon that is displayed by other applications in the upper-right corner of the BlackBerry’s screen. This capability is enabled via a new setting; select “More”, then “Settings” before placing a check mark against the notification option. There are a few more settings that are new to me – one allows for larger fonts, while the other allows for the “Sent from my mobile device” tag line. 
  • Finish Later – In the event that you are unable to finish composing a message, this version allows you to finish composition later. Note however, that only one draft can be saved. This is a welcome addition that I found myself pining for in previous releases.
As far as I can tell, that summarizes the features that I found new in this release. Based on a few days’ worth of experience, the implementation appears solid and performs well, making the upgrade highly worthwhile.
You can grab the GMail client for your mobile device by pointing the device’s Web browser at gmail.com/app. See Google Mobile GMail  for the details.
If you’re using Google Apps for Your Domain (GAFYD), point your mobile device’s Web browser at http://m.google.com/a. See the Google Apps page for more.
If you want to see what I’ve written previously about the GMail client for the BlackBerry click here.

 

Injury Time: Remembrance of Things Just Passed …

What happened?

I strained my lower back. Badly. It was the result of two careless acts: 
  1. Lifting a heavy prop awkwardly at our annual Mardi Gras event. I felt a twinge of pain, and suspect that this predisposed my back towards injury.
  2. Attempting to leave a leg-press machine before completely releasing the 220 lbs of weight that I, back included, was still supporting. 
The pivotal incident (involving the leg-press machine) happened last Wednesday at the University’s athletic complex. Of course, I finished my hamstring curls and rowed for 20 minutes before calling it a day. Doh! 
And yes, I knew then that I was in deep trouble. 
Contrary to my spouse’s advice, I hauled my sorry self off to the University the next day, because I had things that must be done. Doh! With a notable, curvaceous list (upwards to the left), and walking speed 10-20% my normal, I can honestly state that I got a deeper appreciation of what it means to be differently abled. People rushing past me, icy walkways, plus doors stiff to open, were all-of-a-sudden on my radar. 
I barely made it through that Thursday.
I started my formal convalescence (aka. sensible acknowledgement of my predicament) on Friday morning. 

What did I do?
I convalesced. At this point, I had no choice! I took muscle relaxant and installed myself upon a heating pad. Save for attending to primal bodily functions, and attempting to do a few exercises I learned in physio that last time I strained my lower back, I remained in a sub-horizontal state through the entire weekend. I had to pass on a friend’s birthday party and a ski day 😦  
But, I:

I fretted. About work – not being there, work piling up, etc. And about my exercise routine – that picked me up, and then knocked me down! I communed with my family – when they weren’t making up for my shortfalls – and with our pets (three cats and an obnoxiously vocal husky).


What did I learn?
How good people are to me. From walking the dog to driving Miss Daisy (our teenage princess to/from dance/work/friends/etc.) to countless other things I normally do, my family filled the gaps and still had some energy left over for me in my supine state. When I did hobble into the office, I received all kinds of moral and physical support from my co-workers.
In addition to valuing my health, which I’ve been consistently better at for about the past seven months, I need to be careful – especially during acts of weekend heroism (aka. attempts at being handy) and/or exercise (technique and form do matter – ouch!).
I need to allocate more time for reading. All kinds of reading. Because I really don’t watch TV, except for NFL football, there’s nothing I can do there. Reducing the amount of time I spend handling email is about the only place I believe I can claw back from. In the 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss presents some provocative suggestions on this front; I’d better re-read that! 
The BlackBerry is a wonderfully powerful platform that suits me when I am highly mobile, but also when I’m highly immobile – like flat on my back, literally! It’s also the only device my back can actually handle me moving around with at the moment – my laptop in an over-the-shoulder case is a non-starter for me in my current condition.

Why did I share this?
So that I have something to refer back to (sorry), when I’m getting careless!  

BlackBerry Rules the Back Office – For Now …

I’ve had a BlackBerry 8830 for a few months now. And I must admit, I’m getting over my iPhone envy. (iPhone’s still aren’t officially available in Canada!) The 8830 has the tactile keypad I’ve grown to love, a (two-dimensional) trackball in place of a (one-dimensional) thumbwheel, GPS-based mapping, etc. This means that built-in WiFi is about the only capability for which I find myself wanting.

But enough about the client-side device (CSD).
So much of the value delivered to the CSD is because of what’s in the back office – behind the scenes, as it were.
In writing a book review on BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) installation and administration, I was reminded of this aspect on the ongoing BlackBerry vs. iPhone battle.
What’s in the BlackBerry back office?
Allow me to itemize:
  • Integration – The BES integrates the CSD with the enterprise messaging platform (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes, etc.) and the rest of RIM’s BlackBerry universe. In addition to email and calendaring, this has the potential to include instant messaging (e.g., MSN, IBM Lotus Sametime, etc.) and more.
  • Security – Because the BES provides a single locus of control (the BlackBerry domain), it can and has been leveraged extensively to deliver an industry leading environment for end-to-end security. Encryption, authentication, plus six levels for administrative roles, are all present.
  • Policies  – To quote from my review:

The BES ships with over 200 policies that can be applied variously to users, groups and devices … The ability to administer users, groups and devices with respect to policies (including software), from a single point of control (i.e., the BES server), speaks volumes to the appeal and value that this offering can deliver to corporate enterprise environments. 

  • Provisioning – The BES facilitates provisioning of users, groups, devices as well as associated software. Software can even be bundled and targeted to specific CSDs.
The back office supporting the iPhone has a long, long way to go to catch up with all of this – if that’s even a plan that Apple has.
In fact, a far greater threat to the back-office portion of RIM’s BlackBerry universe is the ecosystem developing around Google Android.

Book Review: BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange

Packt Publishing claims its

… unique business model allows [them] to bring [us] more focused information, giving [us] more of what [we] need to know, and less of what [we] don’t.  

If Desai & Renfroe’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange: Installation and Administration is any indication, Packt actually lives up to its claim. In just 172 pages, Desai & Renfroe achieve an enviable balance between being concise and being comprehensive. This statement applies as much to what the authors have written, as to their choice of what to illustrate. Specifically:

  • Chapter 1 places the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in the broader context of Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry universe. In addition to itemizing relevant components, an introduction to the BlackBerry’s push model, security and Internet connectivity is provided. 
  • Though brief, Chapter 2 runs deep in addressing BES architecture and implementation planning. For example, we learn that the BES employs a modular architecture comprising over a dozen components. After succinctly enumerating the components and their function, BES requirements and prerequisites are identified. In addition to hardware and software requirements, recommendations are made with respect to networking your BES (e.g., firewall and/or proxy considerations) and providing it with a database. Easy to gloss over on first read are thoughtful recommendations on sizing the BES (including pointers to resources from RIM) and the database for the anticipated user load. 
  • Before BES components can be installed and enabled, the messaging environment and database server need to be configured. This is the subject of Chapter 3. Both local and remote database instances receive attention. Because each step is well illustrated, the book delivers on its intended purpose of serving as a solution guide.
  • The installation of the BES is a multistep process enabled via a wizard. As in the previous chapter, in Chapter 4 the authors guide the reader through this process making appropriate use of illustrations. They interject appropriate commentary, and are clear on out-of-scope topics. The early emphasis on delineating BES architecture (Chapter 1) is realized as the authors transition the reader through the BES installation. 
  • Of course, installing the BES is just the beginning, and therefore the next few chapters focus on the additional tasks required to operationally deliver this service to its users. After introducing the six permissible levels of administrative role on the BES, attention shifts in Chapter 5 to the matter of provisioning users, groups and devices. And with respect to devices, wireline and wireless options for provisioning are given consideration. 
  • The BES ships with over 200 policies that can be applied variously to users, groups and devices. Also covered in Chapter 6 is the topic of provisioning software from RIM and third parties. Of particular value is the authors’ example of a software bundle targeted to a particular BlackBerry model. The ability to administer users, groups and devices with respect to policies (including software), from a single point of control (i.e., the BES server), speaks volumes to the appeal and value that this offering can deliver to corporate enterprise environments. This Chapter’s treatment of policies and software provisioning serves as an excellent introduction to topics BES administrators will return to repeatedly, and likely with increasing degrees of sophistication. 
  • Unlike many of the other chapters, Chapter 7 provides only an overview of multitiered administration – i.e., properties and tasks relating to users, groups, (BlackBerry) domains and servers. This enumeration of possibilities, presented in context, works effectively. 
  • A deeper discussion on security is the focus of the first part of the final chapter (Chapter 8). Encryption and authorization, both of which receive detailed consideration, amplify the value of the BES and its context in the overall BlackBerry universe for corporate enterprises. An unanticipated treatment of disaster recovery closes Chapter 8. In sufficient detail to enable a solution, the authors discuss in turn the measures needed to ensure that both the server (the BES) and its data (housed by the BES’s local or remote database) are readied for a disaster situation. 

 

Although Desai and Renfroe’s BES book unapologetically targets the Microsoft Exchange environment, its value is not limited here. Those working in other environments, and those interested in learning more about BES’s place in the BlackBerry universe, will almost certainly derive value from this book. Because the book is clear and concise, yet surprisingly complete and well-organized, it is likely to be well-thumbed by BES administrators of varying expertise.  

With the possible exception of a concluding chapter, page, paragraph or even sentence(!), to provide some sense of closure to the book, I am at a loss to report any omissions, oversights or errors. And although they might be better suited for a follow-on contribution of some kind, additional discussion might be given to topics such as performance and scalability (e.g., of local versus remote databases), the mapping of BlackBerry domains to organizational units, and/or improved degrees of DR.

Even though the book I reviewed was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher, I would happily pay for my own copy, and heartily recommend this book to others having interest in BES installation and administration. 

Book Reviews: Coming Soon!

Packt Publishing has kindly sent me the following books to review:

Please stay tuned as I expect to share my feedback here on my blog over the next few weeks …

Ten Tips for iPhone Competitors

The iPhone’s out!In no specific order, here are ten tips for competitors:

  1. Reaffirm your position. In the best-case scenario, this requires you to provide evidence or facts that your business is great. RIM provided a text-book example by boasting better-than-anticipated profits, a stock split and a new product offering the day before the iPhone was released. Nice work. Excellent timing.
  2. Ride the marketing tsunami. You have the market’s ear, so it’s an excellent opportunity to be heard. Take advantage of it. Again, RIM’s day-before triple play provides an excellent illustration.
  3. Flaunt the imperfection. Apple likes to make a big splash. And although the iPhone will offer a lot on day one, it doesn’t have it all. This presents an excellent opportunity to showcase the iPhone gaps addressed by your offering. For example, Helio will tell you that the iPhone doesn’t provide a chat functionality whereas their Ocean does.
  4. Be open. In many ways, Apple’s offerings are more proprietary than Microsoft’s. From anti-trust suits to informal banter, Microsoft gets beaten up on this on a daily basis. Despite a number of objections relating to the highly closed nature of the iPod, Apple gets off relatively easy. This may be an angle to exploit, but it’ll take some work. And Apple may have just made this a more difficult angle to exploit. How? They’ve made it clear that AJAX-enabled Safari is their platform for third-party iPhone developers. Based on JavaScript and XML, AJAX is about as open as it gets.
  5. Engage in coopetition. In some cases, it makes sense to juxtapose cooperation and competition. This results in coopetition, and examples of it abound. Although I wouldn’t expect Apple to be too receptive to a competitor’s advances at this time, it may still be possible to engage in a little gorilla coopetition. For example, iPhone competitors like RIM could offer feature/functionality enhancements to their desktop offering for Apple Mac OS X computers.
  6. Partner. Relative to Apple, RIM is small fry. (Forgive the hyperbole, I’m trying to make a point!) Through partnerships, however, RIM could reduce to topple the size imbalance. For example, a RIM-Google partnership could be interesting. With many of Google’s offerings already available natively for the BlackBerry, there’s an established starting point.
  7. Wire continuous improvement into your DNA. In other words, avoid the big splash. As captured by a recent item in Information Week, this is the Google way:

    Google Apps, which includes Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, and Google Start Page, received several other improvements Monday. This is in keeping with Google’s strategy of incremental product improvements, said Chandra, who noted that Google Apps had seen some 30 new features and updates in the four months since it was introduced.

    The Google way works, in part, because the Internet, Web, etc., have been wired into Google’s DNA from the outset. So, although the continuous improvement sentiment has wide applicability, adaptation is likely required to ensure effective execution. In some ways, Dell’s just-in-time approach to inventory offers an analogous potential for continuous improvement in the production of computer hardware.

  8. Leverage the marketing tsunami. Arguably, the iPhone introduction is taking Apple into new markets with a new product. apple_markets_products001.pngOf course, Apple has to some extent limited their exposure by making the iPhone a convergence play – Phone + iPod + Internet. This means they have both product and market experience they can readily tap. iPhone competitors can also leverage the tsunami from established products and markets to new ones. Perhaps more importantly, the presence of the tsunami that Apple has established means that others can progress systematically from an established situation to a new one. apple_markets_products002.pngFor example, a competitor could progress from an established product and market to a new market with the same product. Alternatively, the trajectory could be from an established situation to a new product for an established market. Such lower risk entrays have been primed by the iPhone tsunami, and iPhone competitors can progress towards new products for new markets incrementally.
  9. Balance awareness with distraction. This one is tough! You need to be aware of the iPhone, and all that that embodies, while at the same time not be distracted from your focus. By staying close to your customers, while being sensitive to the broader market that the iPhone and other products will drive, you will have the best prospects for ensuring success. In terms of something a little more concrete … Listen. If customers complain the your desktop software needs improvement, or that it takes too many clicks to navigate with your Web browser, listen. Listen and then address these issues as opportunities, one by one.
  10. Leverage your community. In the case of Apple, the community is so polarized that it’s been described as religion in the past. Although I haven’t studied it in a lot of detail, the Apple community appears to be a consequence of the cool and innovative way that Apple allows you to “Think different”. Engage with your community. Even though there are so many ways to do this, I don’t see enough vendors doing this.

Agree? Disagree? More tips? Please chime in.