I upgraded my phone several months ago and since I'm on Verizon I don't get my first choice in phones, which would be the iPhone. Since I didn't really like the Droid when I used it in the store I went with the Blackberry Curve. For the most part the phone has been easy enough to use -- "easy enough" meaning that the UI had issues, and it may take a mistake or two to get a setting right but eventually I figured it out. While looking for answers to questions I had online I saw more than one post that mentioned that Blackberries are well known for their steep learning curve but that the reward for having surmounted it was mastery of a lot of advanced options and a highly configurable device.

Well, that learning curve really decided to come back and bite me the other day: I had what was possible the worst user experience with a device I've ever had. I'll tell you the story, and then I'll tell you what questions it raised in my mind about the psychology of user interfaces and experiences.

The Contacts list on my phone has been gathering duplicate contacts for a while now. I have the phone set to sync with Gmail, and it's been causing duplicate contacts to show up in both places. To compound the issue the Facebook app on the Blackberry asked to sync my Contacts with my Facebook contacts, and doing so caused a bunch of contacts to be merged that shouldn't have been merged -- two different people's information suddenly began crossing over into each other's Contacts entry. So now I had no idea if I had the right phone number for any of my contacts.

I tried changing the contacts in Gmail or on the phone but since it's set to sync with Google sync that simply did nothing. So I looked online and the first thing I saw was that many people had problems with Facebook's contacts issue. The solution to this problem was posted several times in different forums: I needed to go deep into the advanced settings for the phone and delete the CiCAL service book for Facebook from the list.

Now, if you know what a service book is I'm going to bet money that you work for Blackberry. My ordeal didn't stop here, but this was the first warning sign: a consumer should never have to see something so jargon-y like "CiCAL service book" in their entire history of using the phone to solve what should be very easy problems to solve like duplicate contacts.

So I deleted the service book -- whatever a service book is -- but I still had duplicate contacts. I found more forum answers that said I had to install the Blackberry Desktop Manager to delete my contacts and resync with my Gmail contacts. So I downloaded it, tried to install it, and it hung on the last 20% of installation. I tried again; same result, only this time I kept getting popups that said the software couldn't install because another installation was already in progress, and when I tried to stop these processes and start fresh I discovered that the software was still listed as being installed under my Programs list and that I had to edit registry entries to remove it. And I discovered that many other users had the same result.

Frustrated with the desktop software I decided to go with a more brute force route that I saw in another forum post -- and I should mention here that forum posts were the only source of information on these problems that I could find -- and that was to just wipe the phone. There's an option to save third party data so I figured I'd take the chance and see if it worked. And it did remove all of my contacts...except that after setting up my email accounts again on my phone, it refused to let me send email.

I was set up properly with my email accounts but if I tried to send an email it insisted I wasn't registered on the network and that I had to set up my email. When it took me to the settings page I could clearly see that my email information was there and accurate. So I checked some more forums. There were two answers I tried: one was to go deep into the advanced settings (again) and go into the Host Routing Tables menu (?!), find the entry in the long list that was bold, and then choose to Authenticate it.

Really, Blackberry? This is something you expect users to be able to logically find somehow? Oh, and that didn't work. Neither did the battery pull that was also recommended.

The next answer had to do with service books again -- forum posts said that my service books simply needed to be resent (again, whatever "service books" are). I was to log into the BIS web site for my cellphone provider -- because each provider has a different BIS, or Blackberry Internet Service site -- and select the "Resend Service Books" option.

I had never been given a log in to that web site and hadn't had to use it, so I tried to set up an account and was told by the site that I was not allowed to use this service. By now I'd had it and decided to call Verizon support. I explained my frustration to the lady and she was surprised that the web site hadn't given me an account, so she set one up for me. And she had my service books resent, and within minutes my email was working on my phone.

By the end of all of this I was nearly ready to smash my Blackberry against a wall and vow never to buy them again, and I'm still pretty sure about the latter part. There was no reason at all for the hoops I had to jump through, nor for the incredible amount of jargon I encountered along the way. I'm a very tech-savvy person and I'm not afraid of jargon, but there's simply no reason why I should have ever had to see that kind of meaningless jargon for the simple case of duplicate contact fixes.

Yet I've seen people talk about the Blackberry as being "challenging" but having a hugely devoted fan base. Why? It's pretty clear that Apple and maybe Droid are destroying them in the mobile phone department. The features I'm using on my Blackberry are no more complex than the features I'm using on my iPad and iPod Touch, yet the Blackberry UI is horribly unapproachable and the entire user experience doesn't come close to Apple or Droid. Could Blackberry users have simply invested too much into the process of learning about the phone they chose that, like Stockholm Syndrome, they had to believe they'd been rewarded with some kind of mythical level of advancement or else all that time and effort would otherwise have been wasted?

I'm curious how much Blackberry is learning, if at all, from their competitors, and I'm really curious if there's a psychology of UI that talks about these issues. Can a UI or user experience ever be too simplistic? Is there any value in providing a "more challenging" UI like Blackberry does? Where is the sweet spot on the UI/UX development spectrum that sits between "so complex that it's frustrating" and "simple enough for anyone to use but deep enough for advanced users to feel they get more value"?

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