The Apple iPhone is perhaps the best-known smartphone on the planet, drooled over by Apple lovers and consumer electronics enthusiasts, but how well does the latest model – the iPhone 3GS – stack up for business users? Here is TechRepublic’s unadulterated evaluation of the iPhone 3GS from a business and IT perspective.

For a full visual of the iPhone 3GS and a quick summary of its strengths and weaknesses, check out this short video clip, and then read the full review below:

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  • Carriers: AT&T Wireless (U.S.), full list of international carriers
  • Processor: 600MHz (Samsung S5PC100)
  • RAM: 256MB
  • Storage: 16GB or 32GB Flash memory
  • Display: 3.5-inch 480×320 pixel HVGA LCD touchscreen
  • Battery life: Standby time: Up to 300 hours; Talk time: Up to 5 hours on 3G; Internet use: Up to 5 hours on 3G and up to 9 hours on Wi-Fi;
  • Weight: 4.8 ounces (135 grams)
  • Dimensions: 4.5(h) x 2.4(w) x 0.48(d)
  • Camera: 3 megapixels with autofocus and video recording
  • Keyboard: 33-key onscreen-only, both portrait and landscape
  • Networks: Wi-Fi; UMTS/HSDPA (850, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • Tethered modem capability: Yes (though not yet activated on AT&T)
  • Price: $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB
  • Official iPhone 3GS product page
  • Photo gallery: iPhone 3GS

Who is it for?

This device is great for users who’ve had trouble using other smartphones, because the iPhone has the easiest UI to navigate – in fact, many toddlers can even figure out how to make it work. The iPhone is also a great fit for users who do a lot of reading on their smartphones, including email, documents, and ebooks, because it has a large high-resolution LCD screen and it’s easy to zoom in or make the text larger, if needed, in most programs. It’s not as good for users who do a ton of typing, texting, or data entry because it is limited to an onscreen keyboard.

What problems does it solve?

The iPhone has two major innovations: user interface and smartphone applications. The UI has made smartphones usable for the masses for the first time. With the help of third party developers who have built over 50,000 applications, the iPhone has become infinitely more useful than previous smartphones, which were basically just cellphones that could sync with your corporate email and calendar. For business users, there is a wide array of apps that now do everything from helping you quickly hail a cab based on your GPS location, to reading The Wall Street Journal, to quickly accessing a company dashboard from an Oracle database, to tracking a FedEx package.

Standout features

  • Accessing the Web – With its big screen, fast processor, 3G connection, and great UI, the iPhone is best smartphone on the market for browsing standard Web pages. Period. Also, beyond its App Store platform (which requires programming in Objective C and submission to Apple for approval), the iPhone also has a Web app platform in which any person or company can build Web pages aimed at iPhone.
  • Reading documents – Again, with the big screen, this is just a great reading device, for PDFs, Word files, and even ebooks and longer documents. There are a variety of third party applications that can make all Microsoft Office documents easy to read and manage on the iPhone.
  • Multimedia device – This device is excellent for viewing video files and listening to audio books and business podcasts. The built-in camera is even pretty respectable, with video recording and a great autofocus feature that allows you to tap on the screen to focus on a specific thing.
  • Application ecosystem – As we’ve discussed, the iPhone has developed into a powerful platform for third party developers to bring lots of additional functionality to the device. All apps require Apple Review in order to make it into the App Store. That insures that no rogue software makes it into the iPhone but it’s also limiting at times, as we’ve seen with the controversy surrounding the rejected Google Voice app.

What’s wrong?

  • No hardware keyboard – The biggest limitation of the iPhone is its on-screen keyboard. The onscreen keyboard is functional for moderate use and the landscape keyboard in the iPhone 3.0 software is a nice improvement, but for those who do heavy emailing, text messaging, or data entry, the iPhone is simply not as fast or as effective as a smartphone with a hardware keyboard.
  • Doesn’t match up to BES – Even with the new Exchange integration, the iPhone does not have the same level of security and IT manageability as you get with BlackBerry smartphones that connect to a backend BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), which is still the IT department’s smartphone platform of choice. In high security environments like government or the financial sector, the BlackBerry will still be the smartphone of choice and the iPhone will not be widely implemented.
  • Limited to AT&T – In the U.S., the iPhone is limited to a single carrier, AT&T, and AT&T’s coverage and network performance simply aren’t good enough for business-class usage in some parts of the country.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

The iPhone is the easiest smartphone to learn how to use, and the easiest to operate on a daily basis. It is also the best device for Web browsing and reading documents. The iPhone’s massive collection of over 50,000 third party applications also give it a big advantage in usefulness over most other smartphones. However, if you need a smartphone to do heavy typing or messaging, or you need a device with enterprise-class security and IT manageability, then you’d be better off with the BlackBerry Tour or the BlackBerry Bold.

User rating

Have you used or supported the iPhone 3GS? If so, what do you think? Rate the device and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. You can also give your own personal review of the iPhone 3GS in the discussion thread below.