LinkedIn for BlackBerry is a much anticipated app, especially given the BlackBerry and LinkedIn demographics are similar. While the app has been available on the iPhone for around 2 years, the BlackBerry launch was significantly delayed. In speaking with Adam Nash, VP of Search and Platform Products at LinkedIn, there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for the delay, or at least one they felt comfortable sharing. Their explanation for the gap between launches amounted to “it was important to find the right time to build for BlackBerry.” In my opinion, the right time was 2 years ago, but it’s literally none of my business.
When LinkedIn for BlackBerry launched, there were a lot of users who had problems getting the app to launch. It’s not always clear why these things happen, as a number of issues arise when you’re dealing with different device models, OS builds, carrier networks and BES vs BIS setups. I think everyone needs to take a little blame when it comes to bugs on launch. RIM have built an app environment that lends itself to app issues, given so many combinations of device setups, and the company could have been beta testing enough to fully cover the 3 devices (Tour, Bold, Curve) they support.
The user interface for the LinkedIn application is reminiscent of Facebook for BlackBerry. The app has 6 icons along the top of the app that correspond to Network Updates, Search, Connections, Invitations, Messages and Reconnect. While I see the benefits in having large timelines, I’m not sure if this is the best way to organize an application. The icons are very small, and I often find myself hovering on the icon to make sure of what exactly it is meant to represent. Compared to the iPhone version, where a touchscreen provides large buttons that are clearly labeled. If I had to suggest an alternate icon style for BlackBerry, it would start with an introductory screen, much like the iPhone has.
Here is a breakdown of the six modules:
Network Updates is a basic module that shows you what is going on in your network. Personally, my network updates are crowded with individuals who have linked their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, making it basically another Twitter timeline to follow. This is where the LinkedIn for BlackBerry app has some difficulties. I noticed that clicking on any status update, will only bring you to the most recent status. For users who have multiple tweets coming through, with links you may want to visit, this seriously impacts the usefulness of the Network Updates section. Basically, this section is only allowing you access to the most recent status update, which if the user links their Foursquare account to Twitter and then to LinkedIn, could be of zero value when using the app. LinkedIn needs to reevaluate their Network Updates section to account for the social hub effect. This would also mean allowing for @user links. Something I did like about the Network Updates section was the ability to see summaries of the users.
Search is a key feature of the LinkedIn app. The search allows you to quickly search through your own network for individuals, and then extends the search to your outer networks. The feature is decently fast, and I was able to find any user in their database with relative ease. When you’re about to go into a meeting, this is the perfect feature for walking in with information about the person you are about to meet with. Use this feature to get some talking points, and you’ll do great in any meeting.
The connections section gives you a breakdown of everyone in your network, and you can easily search through them. I can’t really figure out why the Search and Connections fields have to be separate modules, as they could easily be combined. It could be the same module that finds people I am already connected with, as well as those I would like to connect with. Fewer modules is important with so little screen real estate, and it allows you to make bigger, more recognizable icons.
This is a simple feature but one that is very handy. The ability to connect easily with other individuals by mobile is very helpful. LinkedIn is quickly becoming a replacement for the old-fashioned business card and invitations is the first step. One thing I really like about the mobile version, is that you circumvent the step that asks you how you know the person, or what their email address is. This step was always awkward, and I’m glad it has been omitted in the mobile app. Something LinkedIn could add to their application and desktop version, is a “notes and reminders” section. In order to fully replace the business card, I need to be able to remind myself where I met someone, what we talked about, and when I should reach out again to them. A few CRM features would go a long way with LinkedIn.
One thing the BlackBerry client is lacking that is available for iPhone, is a bump-style contact transfer. This feature would be really handy at conferences, but RIM haven’t invested as much in their Bluetooth peer-to-peer technology. Hopefully we see this in future versions (remember, iPhone is already past version 3.0).
It’s not often that I get a message through LinkedIn, as most of my contacts can easily connect through email, but this feature is great nonetheless. LinkedIn for BlackBerry was built such that LinkedIn messages appear in the BlackBerry Messages folder, making them more accessible and easy to reply to. I had some difficulty with this feature and it didn’t really work for me. I am also in transition between devices, and I’ve had some email problems in general, so I’m not about to call “bug” on this right away. One thing I did notice though, was clicking on the notification email didn’t bring me to the application. It would be good if the app knew this was a LinkedIn link, and take me to the app rather than the mobile site. After opening the application, I noticed the test message was not there either. The mail icon was highlighted dark blue, which suggests to me that the app knows a message was available, but was not displaying it. Overall, something isn’t right here.
The Reconnect feature gives you a list of people you may know and want to reconnect with. On the desktop version of LinkedIn, there are a limited number of suggestions for people you can reconnect with. With LinkedIn for BlackBerry,there is a seemingly unlimited number of suggestions you can scroll through to quickly build your network. I have seen the iPhone version at work, and scrolling through contacts is much faster with the touchscreen. I found I often have to click “more” and wait for the app to load more suggestions, which is frustrating when you know how smooth the iPhone client is. I would like to see LinkedIn for BlackBerry offer more suggestions, and load the list faster when needed.
The LinkedIn app for BlackBerry is a great application that should have been available a long time ago. Much like the iPhone version, the 1.0 launch comes with some bugs and has a lot of fine tuning left. The iPhone client took a couple years to get to where it is today, and I don’t expect BlackBerry development to move any faster. This is an app that makes sense for all BlackBerry users, and I recommend they download it. The only caveat is that you shouldn’t raise your expectations too high this early in the game.