Many have hailed Apple's iPhone as having revolutionized the mobile phone industry, and it has certainly made an impression. But will it ever really catch on in the business world?
Many have hailed Apple's iPhone as having revolutionized the mobile phone industry, and it has certainly made an impression. Other cell phone vendors are now coming out with devices that include one or more of the features made popular by the iPhone, such as extra-large screens and more support for gestures.
The iPhone may be the consumer product of the year -- or even the decade. But will it ever really catch on in the business world?
Recent headlines indicate that Apple is trying to head in that direction. Earlier this month, CEO Steve Jobs announced what the company has dubbed iPhone 2.0 -- the next generation of software for the phone that hit the market less than a year ago. The biggest focus of the update seems to be making the phone more business-friendly.
Less than enterprise-ready
Last fall, as I approached the end of the two-year contract I had signed with Verizon when I got my Samsung i730 Windows Mobile phone, I seriously considered the iPhone as my next mobile device. Like everyone else, its slim profile, its big, gorgeous display, and its "touchability" had seduced me. I was happy with Verizon's service, but I was willing to think about switching to AT&T in order to get it. Then I started doing some real research.
In the end, I decided the iPhone wasn't right for me. Cool factor aside, it just didn't have the features that I want and need to work effectively. Unlike most people, I don't carry a cell phone in order to talk to people. In fact, my cellular plan includes the lowest number of minutes that Verizon offered at the time I signed on, and three people share those few minutes.
What I do rely on my phone for is e-mail -- the lifeline of my business. One of the biggest reasons I rejected the iPhone last year was its lack of full support for Microsoft Exchange. The i760 that I did end up getting works beautifully with my Exchange e-mail account. But that wasn't the only reason I chose it over the prettier iPhone.
Thousands of third-party programs were available for Windows Mobile, giving my phone even more functionality. I only use a few of them, but those I use are indispensible. At that time, Apple didn't allow users to install third-party apps on the iPhone -- that didn't seem very user-friendly to me.
iPhone 2.0, expected to be available in late June, will likely address both concerns. Exchange support was the first new feature announced -- and no wonder, with so many business users complaining about its omission.
The new software will support Exchange ActiveSync (which Apple has licensed from Microsoft) and should be able to integrate with Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS). iPhone users can now get push e-mail, contacts and calendaring, Global Address List (GAL) support, remote wipe, and other enterprise-level features that Windows Mobile users are familiar with.
On the administrative side, iPhone 2.0 will include improvements to give IT administrators more control over the phones. Its new configuration utility lets admins set security policies and VPN options and deliver digital certificates to the phones. Apple is also adding Cisco IPSec VPN support, along with WPA2 Wi-Fi encryption.
Apple is also releasing a software developer's kit (SDK) that will allow programmers to create third-party applications for the iPhone. This doesn't mean just anyone can write and sell (or give away) applications for the iPhone, though -- at least not legally.
Apple is still retaining control over the distribution; you have to go through Apple's App Store to get the programs. Developers who sell their applications through the App Store have to pay Apple 30 percent of their revenues.
And according to Steve Jobs' presentation about iPhone 2.0, Apple will pick and choose which software it approves and makes available. If you install unauthorized applications, Apple could conceivably "brick" (i.e., disable) your phone or disable just the unapproved program.
Still not quite there yet
I won't deny that these changes make the iPhone more attractive to business users like me. But even if I weren't tied to another Verizon contract, I wouldn't run out and buy an iPhone in June to replace my i760. Apple has taken a few good steps toward wooing me away, but they still have a way to go.
We're hearing rumors that the new phone will work with AT&T's faster 3G network, but Apple hasn't confirmed that yet. Until that happens, you can't really take full advantage of the iPhone's nice Web browser. Apple has said the problem with 3G is that it uses too much battery power.
Fixing another of the big problems I have with the iPhone -- its lack of a user-removable battery -- could ameliorate that problem. The fact that you have to send the phone back to Apple for a new battery when the built-in one dies is just inexcusable.
My Samsung i760 came with two batteries; that means I can charge them both up and carry a spare with me if I'm going to be using it constantly or if I'm going to be away from electricity for a few days. I can also buy more. And if one of my batteries gives up the ghost, I just pop in a backup. I certainly don't have to go without a phone for days.
The 16 GB of memory on the latest model of the iPhone is impressive -- but I still want a flash card slot too. I like being able to add more memory and to swap out cards with different data. And as small as the micro SD cards are, it's not like it would be impossible to fit it into the same thin form factor.
Finally, even after price drops, the iPhone is still too expensive. The 16-GB model goes for $499 and the 8-GB model is $399. Verizon sells the i760 for $249 online, and I got mine for $199 with its upgrade plan -- and it still does more than the iPhone.
I commend Apple for listening to the input of people who want business-friendly features added to the iPhone and for starting to move in that direction. I also understand that it has to be careful not to make the device too daunting for its consumer market base.
Maybe the solution is to come out with a special business version of the iPhone that includes more enterprise features -- and perhaps excludes some of the more consumer-oriented features such as the camera and the music and entertainment applications. Ultimately, that may be the only way to get the corporate market to take the iPhone seriously.
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