iEnvy: Do BlackBerry users need an iPad?

The apps available for Apple's sleek new iPad have many BlackBerry-carrying feds drooling, but BlackBerry also offers a robust, if lesser-known, app store, says GCN Lab Director John Breeden.

The iPad mania hit this weekend, and Apple fans lined up in tents and sleeping bags, ready to be the first to get their hands on the newest device from Apple. Depending on what early review you believe, it’s either “a notebook and Kindle killer that will revolutionize the industry” or a “silly toy for big boys.”

My question is whether feds will embrace this new piece of technology. My guess is that they might in their personal lives, but probably not for business. I’ll hold off on any grades for the iPad until the lab completes its full review, but generally, the iPad looks like a wonderful device for consuming media (books, music, movies) but not so great for creating it, thanks to a lack of USB support, camera, keyboard, Flash support or mouse.

I called around and talked with several of my federal friends, from back in the days when I was a civilian agencies reporter for GCN, before moving to the lab about a decade ago. None of them planned to be in line for the iPad launch, though many expressed an interest in the device -- after all the first-time users have worked out the bugs, of course. Basically, they held typical conservative government attitudes toward new technology, which is often a good thing.

But the one thing that they all said they admired about the iPad (and its elder cousin the iPhone) was the abundance of apps. There are supposed to be thousands of iPad apps at launch, and while some of these will be silly and fun, many will also be pretty cool business applications. There really was a palpable app envy in the air.

Almost all of the people I talked with carried a BlackBerry. I think it’s practically standard issue these days for government employees, along with a nice conservative suit and sensible black or brown shoes.

The funny thing is that BlackBerry has a wonderful online app store, with many free apps to boot, though it’s hardly feds' fault if they don’t know about it. For whatever reason, Research In Motion spends almost no time advertising its apps. Instead the company focuses on the devices themselves, to the point that even their users don’t seem to know what’s available. It’s gotten to the point that an executive for RIM complained about that very thing to me at a recent trade show, which was surprising to say the least.

Looking at the BlackBerry App World store, there seem to be free apps and apps you can pay for. The top free apps are things like The Weather Channel, Facebook, BlackBerry Messenger, a YouTube Player and an app called DriveSafely that reads text messages to you while you’re driving so you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel. The paid apps are things like miPhone3G, a calorie tracker and, of course, Bejeweled.

Although the iPad probably will elicit feelings of envy in some of us, don’t fret the apps. You might just have a ton of them right on your belt without even knowing it.