About a week ago, my iPhone and my BlackBerry flew off the roof of my car as I drove down a New Jersey road at about 35 miles per hour. As I looked in my rear view mirror and saw my beige canvas bag flying from my car to the road below, I pulled over to the emergency lane, jumped out of the car, and ran toward the bag.
To my dismay, the iPhone was lying face-down on the pavement. Its protective case had split in two, its glass shattered into a crystalline spider-web. Surprisingly, the BlackBerry, which had no case, survived the impact with just a few pockmarks. The battery and cover had popped off, so I put them into place, pushed the power button on the device and voilà, it powered on and worked immediately.
Despite my disappointment about my iPhone, I realized the results of my unintentional and unscientific road test could have bigger implications.
Here's why. Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry has the greatest market share of all smartphones -- about 56 percent of the U.S smartphone market -- and it's widely used by people who sync their company email systems with their corporate phones. The popular handhelds are used not just by Wall Street types chained to their desks but by people on the go such as marketing and sales executives, construction workers and transportation officials.
Apple (AAPL) wants a bigger piece of that business and is working hard to break into that lucrative market with the iPhone. It has a willing audience and has already had significant success. The iPhone remains the envy of many BlackBerry users -- it's sleek, has a big, touch sensitive screen and lots of apps. Many office workers would happily trade in their BlackBerry for an iPhone.
But could the iPhone's shattered glass shatter Apple's attempts to steal market share from BlackBerry? Calls to both Apple and Research In Motion were not returned. But Rob Enderle, an analyst at the Enderle Group, a technology advisory and consulting firm, confirmed that Apple's products are not as rugged. "The BlackBerry is designed around the idea that people will drop it and use it for work, and the end result is it's much more sturdy," says Enderle. "Apple builds a pretty, classy device, but it doesn't put a whole lot of effort in making it terribly robust. The iPhone was designed as a consumer device and was supposed to be attractive. Like most Apple products, it is designed to be babied and taken care of."
Tim Shepherd, a mobile analyst at Canalys in Reading, England told DailyFinance that a glass screen in most instances is fairly tough. "In certain cases, glass would be more fragile," he says. This high-speed drop being one of those instances. Shepherd also said that the BlackBerry's smaller screen-size was also a factor in it surviving my road test.
Ryan Jacob, who manages the Jacob Internet Fund and says that Apple is his fund's top holding, said that he believes that iPhones can withstand an "impressive amount of abuse." He even carries an iPhone 3G S with no case. Flying off a car's rooftop, however, was obviously a bit too impressive.
The good news, though, is that while the iPhone's screen cracked, not everything was damaged. I was still able to back up the data from the iPhone onto my computer. When the iPhone would ring, the sound would emit, but because the screen was cracked, I wasn't able to make or receive calls. Ironically, Apple originally planned to use a plastic screen on the iPhone, but switched to an "optical-quality glass," according to Engadget , a sister site to DailyFinance.
Lessons learned from my unscientific road test? If you tend to drop things, or leave things on your car roof, pass on the iPhone for now. What you need is something more rugged and according to my road test, the BlackBerry 8830 fits the bill.
Anthony Massucci is a senior writer for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.