The BlackBerry's preserve

October 19, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

If you want to play Angry Birds, get an iPhone. But if you need to do business, stand by your old friend.

FORTUNE --When I was 12, my family moved from Chicago to the suburbs of New York City. The first day at my new school, I slipped on my customary outfit -- clean white T-shirt, Levi's, and desert boots -- hopped on my bike, got there on time. Nobody was very friendly. "Well," one of my new schoolmates said after a while, as I stood around feeling naked and terrified, "look at farmer boy." Farmer boy? Then I noticed. They were all wearing skin-tight chinos, madras shirts, and penny loafers. To me, they looked like clowns. But I knew the drill, as I do today in my black suits and white shirts (no-tie L.A./yes-tie N.Y.). I went out that afternoon and got the uniform. It was uncomfortable and I looked kind of stupid to myself, but I fit in better.

This brings us to about a month ago, when I was talking with my Silicon Valley pal Danny. "Those guys at Microsoft," he said. "What a bunch of clueless losers." How so? I inquired. "Well ... they still use BlackBerrys," he explained. "Gee, Dan," I replied, "you're hurting my feelings." Then I went out and bought an iPhone. It's sort of uncomfortable to use for any business purpose, and I look kind of stupid to myself, but I fit in better.

The other day I was reading the Journal, which I do daily the way kids used to have to take castor oil each morning, and it had a little report on the trouble Research in Motion (RIMM) is having these days. This is not because the BlackBerry is any less effective as a tool for business. It's because the cool people have the fix in. And like all fads of this nature, it is accompanied by a myth: that Apple's (AAPL) iPhone is good for work. Well, let me tell you. It's not.

First, let's consider the primary purpose of a smartphone: e-mail. Danny contended the iPhone was "just the same and even better" than the BlackBerry. I held on with both hands and tried to use my thumbs, which are admittedly rather fat and not whittled to points at the ends. The iPhone popped up into the air like a banana squeezed at one end. Little sucker is slippery! I picked it up and carefully typed a message. The machine corrected my spelling incorrectly as I went along, turning the word "revenue" into "Rover's nose" and stuff like that. I ended up sending only things I could accomplish with my one index finger, limiting the medium to such messages as OK, Huh?, and WTF.

The phone works pretty well. The thing is, it's not the business number by which people have reached me for a really long time. And when I call them, they don't recognize the number, think it's aural spam, and do not answer. So it's essentially a personal phone on which my wife can call me. Except she also calls on my BlackBerry. So I still have to carry my BlackBerry. So now I have two implements, just as I did in 2007.

What good is the iPhone, then? As a tiny game machine, it's peerless. As a music player, it streams beautifully, leaving my sad little iPod in a drawer most of the time. It Googles flawlessly, much, much better than my old tool. And when I feel like watching an itty-bitty video, it's terrific.

The BlackBerry, contrariwise, is hopelessly lame as a media tool. When it tries to do anything in that department, it seems like one of those parents who attempt to be "hip" by getting stoned with their teenagers.

So here's the bottom line: If your business requires you to play Angry Birds, hop on Spotify, or yuk it up with YouTube, by all means switch. If, on the other hand, you need a tool to conduct extensive phone calls and handle complex messages on the road with precision, stick up for your old friend. Defend its status, which is so intimately tied up with yours. Don't let the guys in chinos make you feel like a farmer.

Not that there's anything wrong with farmers, come to think of it. I'd rather eat a fine nectarine than a bogus startup any day.

This article is from the October 17, 2011 issue of Fortune.

Join the Conversation
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.